The news comes a month before Britain's most radical imam is to be sentenced for promoting support of the "Islamic State." Critics say, isolating such prisoners will ultimately create further problems down the road.
The British government plans to separate Muslim extremists from other inmates at the country's prisons in an effort to prevent the spread of radicalization.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced the plan Monday, saying the government needs to take action to prevent the spread of extremist religious ideology within the mainstream prison population.
"There are a small number of individuals, very subversive individuals, who do need to be held in separate units," she said. "We are establishing specialist units in the prison estate to hold those individuals."
The policy shift comes in response to a government report on extremism in prisons. The full report, which was led by former prison governor Ian Acheson, is being kept confidential, but an overview was released Monday.
Key among the findings, Acheson found there was "institutional timidity" in tackling extremist ideology in prisons because staff feared being labeled racist. Truss said prison officials would receive proper training, and given the authority, to root out extremism.
But the idea of isolating prisoners has its critics, including Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, who warns that there will be a price to pay when such prisoners are eventually released into society.
Any program must "get people back into the main prison community," he said. "Anything else is just storing up an even more difficult problem for when they are eventually released."
Remember Northern Ireland
Other critics of the plan say that while isolating extremists will prevent proselytizing to a broader prison population, the extremist's proximity to one-another could give them an opportunity to exchange ideas and, ultimately, to create networks.
This is now considered a fundamental mistake that was made in Northern Ireland in the 1980s where paramilitary prisoners from both republican and loyalist sides of the so-called "troubles" were able to organize themselves within the system.
Truss said she has learned from the mistakes in Northern Ireland. She called for the creation of small units within existing prisons, and the establishment of a new directorate of security and counter-terrorism to ensure prisoners did not collaborate.
The announcement comes as Britain braces for a high-profile court appearance next month. Anjem Choudary, who is considered the country's most notorious Islamist preacher, is due to be sentenced in September after being convicted of promoting support for the "Islamic State."
The report concluded that both Muslim and non-Muslim inmates were susceptible to radicalization and called for leadership to ensure Muslim prisoners could safely practice their faith, emphasizing the religion's potential "to transform lives for the better."
It adds: "Its premise was that Islamism - a politicized, expansionist version of Islam - is more ideology than faith, and is driven by intolerance and anti-Western sentiment."
bik/jil (AP, Reuters, AFP)