Skip to comments.Muslim fanatic prisoners to be 'de-programmed'[UK]
Posted on 10/21/2008 9:13:27 AM PDT by BGHater
Psychologists in the Prison Service will try to cure extremist Muslim inmates of their political beliefs with controversial therapies similar to those used to de-programme members of religious cults.
The experimental treatments are being developed by a special Extremism Unit set up by the Ministry of Justice in January last year, The Mail on Sunday has discovered.
Sources say the therapy forms part of a wide-ranging strategy to combat Islamic extremism in Britains jails.
Experimental techniques: One of Whitemoor Prison's Muslim inmates
There are 90 Muslim prisoners serving time for terrorist offences, and the Ministry fears that, if left unchallenged, their violent, jihadist interpretation of Islam will spread.
About 11 per cent of prisoners are Muslim - three-and-a-half times the proportion in the UK population.
In maximum security Category A jails such as Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire - the subject today of an exclusive report in Live magazine based on unprecedented access to both prisoners and staff - they make up 35 per cent of the inmates, and have converted numerous other prisoners to Islam.
In Whitemoor the 150 Muslim inmates include 39 who have converted in the jail since early last year. In some cases, officers believe converts have been subjected to bullying and changed their faith because they felt vulnerable.
A Ministry source said that to be a Muslim in jail was now seen as cool, and while Muslim prisoners once felt isolated and vulnerable, they were now flexing their muscles. This made it all the more important to ensure that extremist views did not spread.
The source added: The great fear is that kids from places such as Southall in West London, who feel pretty alienated anyway, could be vulnerable to recruitment. We dont have evidence this is happening - but we dont have evidence that its not. We need to be aware of the possibility and act on it.
Psychologists working with the Extremism Unit have for months been investigating ways of de-programming jihadists. Ministry sources said they planned to use cognitive- behaviour methods, based on the notion that it is possible to change peoples behaviour by altering their perceptions and attitudes.
One source said: Its pretty clear it wouldnt work with everyone. But our view of extremism is that, at the centre, the views of the hardcore, high-profile leaders will not be subject to change. But for those further out, it may be quite effective.
Another source said: Our focus is on protecting the public and on reducing the risk of offenders hurting others. Its about stopping violence.
Therapists would work with such prisoners individually, while the treatments would help the Prison Service determine whether prisoners would still be dangerous if released.
On the front line are approximately 150 prison imams, who are expected to challenge extremist beliefs on the basis of their own religious knowledge.
One source said: Were looking to them to shoot down the religious justification for violence. They have to be able to stand up to those who support terrorist killers and say they are wrong.
At the same time, the Ministry had to accept that many Muslims felt a deep sense of grievance about British policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Imams have to become a valve for the venting of prisoners anger without lending support to extremism themselves.
The unit will train staff to recognise the signs of extremism, such as a charismatic prisoner openly challenging the authority of the imam.
But one source said: The great majority of Muslims want nothing to do with terrorism. Striking the balance is extremely delicate.
At the front of a hangar-sized brick cavern that was once a workshop, Imam Tariq Mahmood is holding Friday prayers. As he stands in his pulpit beneath the sign of the crescent moon, the congregation kneels prostrate on prayer mats, murmuring verses in Arabic in response to his lead.
The mosque is busy. The rack by the entrance have overspilled, leaving dozens of shoes on the floor.
In his gleaming white salwar kameez, Mahmood, a well-built man of 39 who was born in Pakistan, looks resplendent.
The worshippers are more casual. Along with their prayer caps, most wear T-shirts and jeans. A little over half appear to be of South Asian descent.
There are at least 20 Caucasians, and the rest are Afro-Caribbean.
Most have beards. Its Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The lesson of Ramadan is that you must drive your desires, instead of your desires driving you, Mahmood says in his sermon. If desire is not controlled, people can commit mistakes very horrible things.
In fact, most of those present 105 this week in late September have done horrible things already.
As inmates at Whitemoor maximum-security prison in Cambridgeshire, nearly three-quarters are serving life for murder or indeterminate sentences for other violent crimes.
Their average tariff the minimum term they must serve before the Parole Board can consider possible release is 15.7 years. Some will not be on the streets again for more than 30.
Watched by a complement of just six officers, the Friday prayer service at Whitemoor represents the biggest regular gathering of high-risk prisoners anywhere in Britain.
Staff are well aware that some of the worst prison riots, such as 1990s Strangeways disturbance in Manchester, have kicked off at religious events.
The service is also a focal point of what the Government regards as a critical political struggle.
Eight of the Muslim prisoners in Whitemoor have been convicted of crimes under the Terrorism Acts, including suicide-bomb plots that, mercifully, didnt succeed.
At the Ministry Of Justice, a high-level Extremism Unit seeks to stop the spread of the type of Islam that approves of terrorism. Its officials see imams such as Mahmood as this battles front line.
As the prayers proceed, from beyond the mosques locked door come the sounds that form a backdrop in any jailhouse: the jangle of keys; the thwack of bolts and gates; the ululation of mens voices echoing through an environment where almost every surface is as hard as some of the inmates.
But here, as a young prisoner sings a solo prayer in a thin, haunting tenor, the atmosphere is solemn.
There is no whispering. In Ramadan, if you will change the direction of your journey, the door of paradise is open, Mahmood says. One day, Inshallah , you will lead a normal life again.
When the meeting breaks up, about 20 prisoners surround me, all with urgent questions.
Some sound a note of aggression: how do they know I wont portray them all as extremists, or disrespect their faith? What comeback will they have if I dont keep my promise not to publish pictures that would allow them to be identified?
I do my best to satisfy them. The moment of unease passes. Within a few minutes, they seem to lose interest and file quietly back to their wings.
I am here at the invitation of the governor, Steve Rodford, 49, who since his appointment two years ago has become exasperated at the prisons negative image.
The Sun claimed earlier this year that Whitemoors A wing is the most dangerous in Britain. According to The Observer, a serious incident is imminent, because officers are losing control to Muslim gangs.
Accused by the press of being too lenient, now Rodford also faces claims that Whitemoor is too repressive.
A new report by Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector Of Prisons, says relationships between staff and inmates are distant and distrustful, and that staff treat all Muslims as suspected national-security risks or extremists.
Since her last visit in 2006, the population had become more challenging, but it was not evident that the prison had yet been able to rise to those challenges.
Rodford makes me a promise.
I can go wherever I want and talk to anyone, staff or prisoner, with only one condition: that in a jail where many of the inmates and their crimes are extremely well known, I dont reveal prisoners identities.
With that I become the first journalist to be given unrestricted access, with the run of the prison for four full days. A photographer is also allowed into the prison for the first time.
There are three regular wings at Whitemoor, each with three three-storey spurs holding about 40 inmates. (D wing, the fourth, is a therapeutic unit for men with dangerous personality disorders, run with the Health Service.)
Within each spur, in the hours they spend unlocked from their cells, prisoners have freedom of movement; theyre able to use pool and ping-pong tables and a small fitness area on the ground floor, and walk along the brightly illuminated landings.
I spend most of my time in A wing.
Having visited many jails in Britain and America, one thing strikes me immediately: its spotlessly clean.
Most prisons stink, but in Whitemoor the only odours are enticing.
They come from the prisoners communal kitchens, where small groups cook their own food, purchased with their pay from prison work.
The cooks have access to a full range of knives. They have to be returned to staff after use, but as yet theyve never been used for an assault.
Theres no doubt, to use Owerss word, that Whitemoor has become more challenging, with the challenge posed by Islam the greatest of all.
Ten years ago, Muslims accounted for only a handful of the prisons 450-odd inmates I used to feel sorry for them, says a veteran London drug smuggler.
They now number 153, around 35 per cent proportionately more than in any other prison, and ten times the percentage in the population at large.
Some use prison to encourage others to join their faith. As of this month, there are 39 inmates who converted to Islam while in Whitemoor, a few of whom have openly advocated extremist views.
The Ministry Of Justice doesnt know why, but Muslims are over-represented throughout the prison system the 9,500 self-described Muslim prisoners currently make up over 11 per cent of the inmate population, around three-and-a-half times the proportion outside.
This cant be explained by terrorism: only about 90 have been convicted of crimes regarded as al-Qaeda-linked or -influenced.
It may simply be theyre coming from deprived urban areas where theres more criminality, one ministry official says. But something else seems to be happening in the younger generation and in prison, theyre much more prepared to flex their muscles.
Ultimately, more Muslims are entering Whitemoor because in south-east England, its catchment area, more Muslims are being convicted of the serious crimes that lead to offenders being sent there.
After years of slow growth, since 2006 the number of Muslims in the prison has doubled.
However, most of the staff are from white Fenland towns such as March and Wisbech, and have had little previous contact with Islam.
The big increase coincided with the arrival of the first convicted Muslim terrorists, and Rodford admits that at first staff over-reacted: There was a feeling that the world was coming to an end and these Muslims were going to blow us all up in the prison.
Darren Roberts, a senior officer on A wing, says, A few months ago, if wed seen three Muslims together training in the gym, the perception would have been, Theyre building themselves up; they must be planning something. Yet
if three high-risk white gangsters had been doing that, we wouldnt have made that assumption. I think people are calming down.
Intractable issues remain, however, including the rate of conversions.
Being a Muslim is seen as cool, and Muslim identity can be a glue that holds people in prison together, the ministry official says. But freedom of conscience is one thing, coercion another.
I get on with the Muslims, says a London gangster in his sixties, serving life for murder.
But you do get some who join them because theyre weak. Say we were having a fight, and I was a Muslim and youre not. It wouldnt be a fair fight, because the next thing youd know, thered be half a dozen of them on you.
In the segregation unit, a bleak spur where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, I meet a Scot in his forties who says he hid a makeshift knife made from a plastic pen and a razor blade to protect himself from Muslims who operated like a prison gang with the difference that instead of trying to sell drugs, they were trying to recruit converts.
In Long Lartin , Ive seen them throwing pots of hot ghee over two black boys who wouldnt turn Muslim, he says. The violence here isnt so bad. But if youre not one of them, they shun you. He says he wants to stay in the unit.
Aware that in America Muslim gangs have become a magnet for resistance to prison authorities, the Ministry Of Justice set up its Extremism Unit in March 2007.
The problem is not imaginary. One afternoon, I sit with a prisoner from Africa who has been in Whitemoor for several years. There are people here who call themselves Muslims who are just trying to build a clique, to rebel against the system, he says. A lot of them have extremist beliefs. I was brought up a strict Muslim and I know the Book.
I was the first one challenging them. I showed them the proof, what the Book says that they have been brainwashed.
I want people to look at Muslims in the same way I look at a Christian, a Buddhist or a Jew, and to know that Muslims value human life. Waging that battle has cost him dear: earlier this year he was stabbed.
I meet no one in Whitemoor who admits to supporting terrorism. The Extremism Unit regards those convicted of terrorist crimes with particular wariness, and on A wing, the potential influence wielded by one convicted would-be bomber is immediately visible.
A powerfully-built, gregarious man, he seems imbued with a constant, restless motion, trotting up and down the stairs and along the landings, chatting to everyone.
As Muslims, its part of our religion to see the wider picture, he says, going on to voice fierce criticisms of British and American foreign policy and the civilian deaths caused in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, he pleaded not guilty at his trial and continues to insist he was innocent. He entertains few hopes of eventual release. I understand the politics, and I know Im likely to die in prison. I feel Im here for a purpose. For me, its like a decree from God. Whatever it is, Im happy with it.
A big, soft-spoken man who lets staff address him by his first name, Rodford spends a lot of time striding Whitemoors corridors and checking on its wings, often beset by prisoners with grievances or demands.
One minute youre on the phone being grilled by a government minister. The next youre down B wing, being slagged off by some triple murderer saying how hed love to stab your wife and kids. You need to be intelligent. But you also need some bottle.
Leaving school at 16, he spent 13 years with the Post Office before becoming an ordinary wing officer at Londons Wormwood Scrubs. Whitemoor is his third prison as chief governor.
The three spurs in each wing are divided from each other by firmly locked gates. This is imperative. Some prisoners simply cannot be housed together for example, members of two Midlands gangs, the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew.
It was their mutual enmity that led to the shooting of four teenage girls in Birmingham in January 2003, and numerous subsequent murders.
Prisoners in Whitemoor
The gangs increasing aggressiveness is partly due to the fact that the average age of Whitemoors prisoners is falling, with several lifers barely old enough to be in an adult prison facing 30 or 40 years behind bars.
Theyre young fellas, strutting the landings like they just dont care, Rodford says. Actually, they do care. But they dont make life any easier. It feels like every week youre getting more prisoners that maybe youd rather not have.
An internal review in April revealed that although only 20 per cent of inmates were members of recognised gangs, they were responsible for about half the prisons assaults.
The statistic of eight serious attacks (only one was on an officer) in the preceding year compares well with other high-security jails, but the level is rising.
In the week before my arrival, a prisoner whod spent two months in the segregation unit for his own protection was attacked in his cell within 20 minutes of returning to an ordinary wing. He ended up in hospital with a fractured skull and a brain haemorrhage.
Its not like the old days, when you had IRA men and Ulster Protestants in the same
prison, the veteran gangster says. They used to get on inside. This lot work through their outside vendettas in prison.
Some gang members are notorious, brutal figures on the outside, and they exert a powerful influence within the prison.
Youre aware of what they can do; of the fact theyve had police officers on their payroll, perhaps had people killed, says senior officer Roberts. If you went back 1,000 years, they would have been tribal leaders. They know the streets, they can read body language.
According to Rodford, there are two secrets to managing such inmates, be they radical Muslims or any other difficult prisoners.
The first is to use a range of sanctions: placing an inmate on the basic regime, where items such as TVs are removed; a week or two in the segregation unit; or ghosting, sudden removal to another wing or prison.
More important, though, is building relationships between staff and prisoners: The best way to defuse a tense situation is talk to them in a civilised fashion, says Rodford.
This isnt as simple as it sounds. The infamous 1994 escape of six prisoners from Whitemoor occurred because of what the service calls conditioning the process of blandishments, blackmail and outright intimidation through which an intelligent and ruthless prisoner can manipulate an officer to the point where he or she may be willing to risk everything.
Last month, former Whitemoor officer Yvonne Taylor was convicted of smuggling drugs and mobile phones for Burger Bar Boys gang inmates.
According to her former colleagues, her conditioning started with simple compliments on her appearance, and ended with Taylor sending pictures of herself in her underwear to the illicit mobile which shed acquired for a prisoner.
I was rushed getting ready for work one morning and forgot to put on my engagement ring, says a female officer who asks not to be named. Within ten minutes, three prisoners had asked me, acting all sympathetic, if my relationship was on the rocks. Thats how observant they are, how quick they can be to get under your skin.
Yet as I explore A wing for myself, walking the landings without an escort and talking to prisoners in their cells, the atmosphere seems calm, routine, unthreatening.
Between inmates and officers, theres a lot of normal, polite dialogue.
But it has its limits. Suddenly therell be tension, says Laura, an officer in her twenties. You get an atmosphere. It will go quiet; youll get stared at, blanked, or certain prisoners wont come out of their cells. It means somethings happened in their secret world. Often well have no idea what that is.
Rodford calls Whitemoors changing population a toxic mix, with the potential to cause chaos.
Professor Alison Liebling, director of Cambridge Universitys Prisons Research Centre, says, This is a jail facing unprecedented challenges.
The people who work in prisons are the ghosts of the criminal justice system seldom seen, but getting blamed for trying to manage situations that society creates.
And a lot of the time they get it right, doing a job most people wouldnt go near.
The Extremism Unit is investigating at least one longer-range strategy that may help deal with jihadists: cognitive behavioural therapy, similar to the de-programming methods used to unbrainwash members of religious cults.
Based on the notion that its possible to change peoples behaviour by shifting their perceptions and attitudes, other types of cognitive treatment, such as anger management and courses for sex offenders, are well established in British prisons, and have cut reoffending rates.
But a course for Muslim extremists would be a radical, controversial departure.
De-programming sex offenders is one thing; to do the same with a prisoners faith and political beliefs quite another.
The whiteboard, in the governor's office at Whitemoor
Its pretty clear it wouldnt work with everyone, an official says.
But our view of extremism is that it consists of concentric circles. At the centre, the views of the hardcore, high-profile leaders will not be subject to change. But for those further out, it may be quite effective.
Meanwhile in Whitemoor, Rodford is looking to more traditional methods, both to combat extremism and ensure that conversions to Islam are voluntary.
For example, he has instituted a system of bullying reports on the wings, by which prisoners suspected of pressurising others are warned and monitored.
Inevitably, this has aroused opposition.
You pay a heavy price for being a Muslim in this jail, says a prisoner from Yorkshire convicted for firearms offences and money-laundering.
I was placed on a stage-two bullying form and threatened with the seg unit because I was supposedly pressurising other prisoners to change their religion. But they wouldnt say who, and they wouldnt tell me how they knew this fact.
Islam attracts other prisoners because its a beautiful religion. You cant force someone into it, because if their heart isnt pure their conversion will have no meaning, no value. Religion has changed me, made me a better person. But its got to the stage here where we cant talk to non-Muslim prisoners, because if we do, they say were trying to convert them. But if we ignore them, the officers will say we must hate them. We cant win.
Rodford has also organised training days with the imam, in an attempt to provide staff with an awareness of Islams teachings.
The fear and hype is diminishing. Were coming out the other side and learning how to manage this, he says.
As for extremism, Imam Mahmood is being asked to carry a weighty burden.
Like any prison chaplain, much of his work is taken up with pastoral duties: attending to inmates with physical and mental health problems, helping them deal with bereavement.
He also runs Islamic studies, and a special justice awareness course, a programme designed to make Muslim criminals aware of the perspective of their victims.
Prisoners are like patients, and we are spiritual doctors who must make their best efforts to save patients who might die. My approach is, I dont judge.
'The judgment has been made by the court. I make no exception for those convicted of terrorist offences: they need their treatment, too. If I see a murderer, I dont withhold my message.
'If you judge, you cannot reform them. God is mercy.
I had to shorten the title to fit into the title heading.
The correct title is:
Muslim fanatic prisoners to be 'de-programmed' using controversial techniques to 'cure' them of beliefs
“Muslim fanatic prisoners to be ‘de-programmed’ using controversial techniques to ‘cure’ them of beliefs.”
Yea, good luck with that. I believe the muslim term for this is “apostasy.”
See the Whey Protein in the top left corner of the first picture.
The muzzies are simply hitting the gym and getting bigger. Prison sounds like a nice place to get fit and plan things.
Good pickup...I agree.
deprogram them with a 9mm. that would rearrange their brain cells
Lead therapy shows the most progress in any dejihadification effort..
The Brits actually have experience and a record of success at doing this. They “de-Mau-Mau”ed a bunch of prisoners in Africa and even got them to switch sides.
Somehow, though, I think Muslims will be much harder to crack than the Mau-Mau.
The Japanese know how to deal with this. Prisoners are kept isolated, fed hi-carb diets, and get limited exercise. We should follow suit, and so should the Brits. No way prison guards should have to face bulked up monsters...
Force them to eat Spam Fritters, that will cure them of all their faith in Allah.
If I was in their shoes, I would say anything, do anything, act rehabilitated, whatever it took to get the hell outta there.
I'm sure he would cry foul if he lost his protein fix. I'm curious though, I didn't realize that Whey protein was halal, I thought for some reason it wasn't.
The muzzies are simply hitting the gym and getting bigger. Prison sounds like a nice place to get fit and plan things.
Plus other perks - no expenses, plenty of free time to network with friends.
“Somehow, though, I think Muslims will be much harder to crack than the Mau-Mau.”
I think so too.
They’re not as tough and special as they make out. Dont let all the propoganda get to you.
Good point. Yes, propaganda....always. Thanks for the reminder.
There are a lot of Brits, ex-pats, who work in the Middle East - Saudi is very popular. I know lots of them...they dont have a very good impression of Islam and Moslems generally. Homosexuality is rampant. Abuse of women is rampant. Racism is rampant (Baluchis are treated like dirt). There is fairness in the judicial system, but it is easily trumped by religious prejudice, racial prejudice or social importance. The Saudis themselves are unbelievably lazy. Its useless to learn the language because the only topics of conversation are children and religion. Many of them are stoned most of the time, in spite of the prohibitions against alcohol and drugs. They drink this lethal stuff called “sif”, which is about 180 proof. The religious police prowl the streets arresting anyone for not going to prayers at the appointed times, but there is a dispensation if you are driving a car, so of course at prayer times the roads are full of people who “need to drive somewhere just then”. This works unless you are a woman, when you get arrested anyway (it is illegal for women to drive cars in Saudi).
In other words, the adherents of the “religion of peace” can be just as hypocritical, venal, and rule-bound as anybody else, and don’t ever be fooled otherwise. Human Beings can be Moslem, Christian or Budhist; White, Black or Yellow; Conservative, Liberal or Centrist; but mostly, predominantly, overwhelmingly; they are Human Beings :)
Very interesting insights. Thank you.
Yes, I understand the nature of man and the hypocrisy that goes along with the human condition. I appreciate your thoughts and knowledge of the situation.