Some terrorist convicts should be let off jail because the state of Britain’s prisons means that they might become more radicalised behind bars, MPs said today.
The Commons Justice Select Committee said it was making the call for leniency because counter-radicalisation work in jails was often “absent or inadequate”.
As a result, the courts should consider whether a non-custodial sentence would be better than prison for rehabilitating the “lowest level” of terrorist offenders.
The MPs’ comments come in a report published today on draft Sentencing Council guidelines setting out how judges should deal with terrorist convicts.
They will heighten concern about the state of Britain’s prisons and the level of radicalisation taking place inside following repeated warnings about the dangers posed by extremists are converting others to their cause behind bars.
Ministers responded last year by promising new measures, including a segregation unit for the most problematic terrorist convicts.
But today’s report by the cross party committee of MPs, which is chaired by the Conservative Bob Neill, warns that the situation remains of such concern that it could be counter-productive to send some terrorists to prison.
“We suggest that concerns about the adequacy of de-radicalisation programmes in prison may mean that the court should consider, for certain offences at the lowest level, whether it would be appropriate to impose a non-custodial sentence,” the MPs state.
“If provision in prisons [of de-radicalisation] is in fact absent or inadequate, as we have reason to believe is often the case, then this must have an effect on .. the likely efficacy of sentences and in turn on [sentencing] guidelines.”
The MP, who also suggest that younger offenders should be sentenced more leniently, add that they have been warned by the Parole Board that “increasing the penalties for less serious offenders will result in them becoming more likely to commit terrorist acts when they are released.”
Today’s report came as Home Secretary Amber Rudd vowed to step up the fight against “the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right and “hateful Islamist messages online” after police raised the alarm about the growing twin terror threat facing Britain.
The Home Secretary said she was “steadfastly committed to defeating all forms of terrorism” and would target both the far right and Islamists in a new counter-terrorism strategy that will be unveiled shortly.
Her promise follows a warning by Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, that four far-right terror plots and ten involving Islamists had been foiled last year.
Mr Rowley said the two rival ideologies were now feeding off each other in an attempt to incite further violence and that the emergence of organised far-right terrorism was a “matter of grave concern” which needed to be addressed.
He also suggested that the courts should remove children from the care of extremist parents in the same way as with paedophiles
He said one police analysis in London of Islamist “terrorists” and their associates had found that of the 100 children they had between them, half were educated at home and at risk of being radicalised.