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De-radicalisation, rehabilitation, and reform

Written by Comment

On Sunday 2 February, 20 year-old Suddesh Amman was shot dead by London Metropolitan Police on Streatham High Road after having stabbed two people. He was released from jail only 10 days prior.

The incident has re-opened a debate surrounding the purpose of prison sentences, and the success of both rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programmes within UK jails.

Naturally, there is no clean-cut, sugar-free, guaranteed way to achieve either of these objectives. Further, this article will adopt the position that the purpose of prison is to facilitate both punishment and genuine character reform.

It is intensely difficult to undo the mindset that leads to terrorism

It is an intensely difficult thing to undo the mindset which leads to either crime or terrorism, and there are often various external factors stemming from socio-economic background which draw them towards such a lifestyle. Lack of economic opportunity, for example, is a common reason for crime. Eric Allison notes that “more than half of all adults leaving prison are reconvicted within a year of discharge” and that “two-thirds of those had failed to find work on release”. Therefore, the solution must necessarily provide genuine future prospects for offenders if they are expected to successfully integrate back into society upon release. This assumes that the served prison term has provided punishment suited to the crime.

Punishment that makes no attempt to reform inmates’ character does not go very far

Without (legal) future prospects – in the example of theft or gang-related selling – one should not be surprised to see a return to illegal alternatives. In 2019, former director general of the Prison Service Sir Martin Narey argued that “Indecent, unsafe prisons allow no [self-growth] and further damage those who have to survive there”. Thus, punishment devoid of attempts to reform character does not go very far.

Anti-extremism expert Mubin Shaikh
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The issue of de-radicalisation is a far trickier subject. Following the 2019 London Bridge terror attack, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the “grim reality” was that “some people can’t be rehabilitated in prison”. However, this does not mean that attempts to de-radicalise should be given up altogether: the Canadian Mubin Shaikh, who said of himself that he was “bit by the Jihadi bug”, advocates for the success of de-radicalisation programmes. He describes being taken “verse-by-verse” through the Qur’an and being shown exactly how the quotes which so-called ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ were appropriating to encourage terrorist activity. He was shown exactly how they were being taken out of context, which aided his rejection of the ideology. This is mirrored by the UK’s own top de-radicalisation programme, ‘the Healthy Identity Intervention’ (HII) scheme. Though Christopher Dean – who runs the programme – admits there is “no cure” for radicalisation, the ability to dissuade and detach individuals from such hateful ideologies surely inspires some hope.

Last modified: 10th February 2020

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