0645 GMT February 25, 2020
There are currently more than 200 people jailed for terror offenses in Britain, but hundreds more have been flagged as potential extremists and prison officers fear the real number is far higher, The Independent reported.
But efforts to monitor their activity rely on stretched staff whose training was deemed “completely inadequate”, flagging inmates to a specialist unit.
The warning comes after two prisoners wearing fake suicide vests launched a suspected terror attack at HM Prison Whitemoor.
The previous day, a court heard how a man who attacked police officers with a sword outside Buckingham Palace got tips on avoiding conviction from terrorists while being held at HMP Belmarsh.
And in November, the London Bridge terror attack was launched by a terrorist who underwent deradicalization programs while serving a prison sentence for another plot.
The Ministry of Justice says prison officers are trained to report suspicious behavior, but a union called the training “completely inadequate” and said staff are too stretched to deal with radicalization amid a crisis of drugs and violence.
Mick Pimblett, assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said new staff were given one-day extremism training during their initial course but that he never received it during his 30 years of service.
He told The Independent that prison officers in high-security prisons were more “clued up” than colleagues in category B and C jails that inmates are moved into before their release.
“The officers aren’t dealing with it on a daily basis so there could be problems,” Pimblett added.
“Staffing levels are an issue as well. The staff are stretched to the point they don’t have time to do anything, they are doing their best to run a regime.
“They can’t go around getting intelligence from prisoners.”
The former prison officer, who left the service in November 2018, said that staff may not be able to understand discussions by inmates speaking other languages such as Urdu and Arabic.
According to the most recent statistics, there were 224 people in custody for terrorism-related offenses in the UK, with 17 percent classified as far-right extremists.
But there are between 500 and 800 inmates being managed under a “counterterrorism specialist case management process” at any one time.
“You’ve got someone who is in for five or six years, an ordinary criminal, and all of a sudden they are radicalized into hating anything about the West,” a prison officer working in the high-security estate told The Independent added.
“There are lots of people who are more of a threat when they leave than when they come in,” he added.
“Most of them will revert back to their normal way of life but some will be so radicalized during their time in prison that they will want to go out and attack the West.”
The Ministry of Justice said extremism concerns are reported to counterterrorism specialists, who are part of a joint extremism unit involving the prison service, intelligence services and probation.
The Home Office and Cabinet Office review how specialists manage extremists but their findings are not publicly published.
However, recent revelations suggest the system is failing. Usman Khan, 28, launched the London Bridge terror attack less than a year after being released from prison on license, after being jailed over a previous bomb plot.
He had been held at the same two jails that were also home to Brusthom Ziamani, who had planned to behead a British soldier in 2015.
He was reportedly able to radicalize fellow inmates in his own cell, potentially including the man who joined his alleged terror attack in HMP Whitemoor on January 9.
In 2017, three terror convicts known as the “three musketeers” planned a new attack together after being allowed to mingle in prison.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said, “More than 29,000 prison officers have received enhanced extremism awareness training to spot signs of radical behavior in our jails.
“They provide vital intelligence to our network of counterterrorism specialists which monitors and disrupts suspected extremists throughout the prison and probation service.
“We’ve also recruited 4,400 more prison officers in the last three years and are spending and extra £2.75 billion to transform our jails and enhance security.”