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Peers warn over prison ‘terrorist training grounds’

During a debate in the House of Lords, several peers demanded assurances that security inside prisons will be maintained and extremists can be deradicalised.

Data shows that the number of terrorist prisoners hit a record high last year, and a package of new laws currently going through Parliament aims to make them serve longer inside jail by increasing sentences and changing release rules.

As initially drafted, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill would increase the maximum penalty from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for several terror offences. Judges would also be able to increase the sentence for any crime punishable by more than two years in prison by finding a ‘terrorist connection’.

The bill would force terrorists given extended determinate sentences to serve the entire term in prison, rather than being released on licence, but only if the maximum penalty for the crime was life.

Proposing a series of amendments to the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks called for a review of separation centres, which are intended to isolate influential extremists from the mainstream process.

Three were opened in the wake of a damning review on Islamist extremism, but only one remains in operation.

He said: “We are also concerned to consider the effect on other prisoners of having serious terrorist offenders in their midst. It is of great importance to avoid the risk that the most serious offenders are seen as some kind of kingpins within prisons to be looked up to and emulated. If our prisons become terrorist training grounds, the effect of long sentences will have been utterly counterproductive.”

Another peer to raise concerns was the Green Party’s Baroness Jones, who said that changes in the new bill ‘can either work very well or be disastrous’.

She said: “The government are taking a very worrying approach to counterterrorism with this sort of ‘tough on crime’ mentality, where we just lock people up and throw away the key. There is a huge risk that issues and behaviours like this can spread in prison and in fact the prisons become a recruiting ground. That is pretty much how Isis started, in the prison camps in Iraq, so we have a precedent for some quite damaging events coming out of locking people up. We have to be very careful that the government’s attempts to imprison people indefinitely do not just make the problem much worse.”

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