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Jail radicals bid 'hit by staffing'

Published 07/04/2015

Theresa May said staff levels are not a problem when it comes to fighting extremism in jails
Theresa May said staff levels are not a problem when it comes to fighting extremism in jails

Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected claims that staff shortages are hindering efforts to prevent Islamic radicalisation in prisons.

The former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office has warned that stretched resources are making it increasingly difficult to find the needle in a "growing haystack of extremists".

Ex-detective chief inspector Chris Phillips told BBC Radio 4's Today: "What we have actually is a prison population that's growing.

"We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that's going to go off and do something really nasty.

"But of course we've got less people to go and look for them as well so it's a really difficult thing for the police service and prison service to deal with."

Asked if a lack of prison officers was making the job harder, Mrs May told the programme: "I don't think that is the problem.

"But what I think we do need to look at and continue to look at - and measures have been taken to be dealing with this - of course we need to continue looking at this issue of how we can ensure that radicalisation doesn't take place in prisons.

"In prisons often it's about being part of a gang, being part of a group, the group that perhaps has more members you join and you can get drawn into radicalisation although they don't intend it in the first place."

She went on: "The work that our security services, our law enforcement agencies, are doing day in and day out is of course working to identify those who would be trying to do something nasty, who would be planning an attack or about to carry out an attack.

"But it is constant. What we have seen over the last year is a significant increase in the number of disruptions that the police have undertaken, particularly of people potentially travelling to Syria.

"So we are constantly looking at what we need to do to defeat this radicalisation."

Stephen O'Connell, president of the Prison Governors Association told Today: "I am not aware of any evidence that the issue has got worse over the last 12 months or that it has been affected by staff numbers or prisoner numbers.

"I'm not saying that that couldn't be the case; I'm just not aware of any evidence that supports it."

He went on: "Please don't interpret what I'm saying as 'there isn't a problem'; I'm just not aware that its got worse because of the changes in staffing.

"I understand the correlation between staff numbers and prisoner numbers but when it comes to dealing with extremists, we are talking about a small number of prisoners with some very dedicated resources to actually managing those."

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