November 8, 2017

Throwing the book at ’em, while taking their books away


According to the UK’s Ministry of Justice, instances in which prison staff have confiscated extremist Islamic publications from prisoners are on the rise. There have been fifty-six such cases since June 2016, with the bulk of those occurring between January and October of 2017 — leading, as Izzy Lyons reports for the Daily Telegraph, to “concerns that jails are becoming hotbeds of extremism.”

Lyons writes:

Ian Acheson, a former prison governor who conducted a government review last year, told The Daily Telegraph: “Radicalisation in prison is a real and present danger which we have seen growing in scale. Purveyors of hateful ideologies will take full advantage of the ungoverned spaces in British jail.

“The prison service has an obligation to get a grip on this phenomenon and stop the hand-wringing political correctness that has prevented decisive action against extremism for so long. We simply cannot tolerate a situation where people go into prison as criminals and go out as converted terrorists.”

It’s hard to imagine what constitutes an “ungoverned space” in jail, and doubly hard to imagine how policing a prison population’s reading material might foster civic pride and reform, rather than resentment and recidivism. And, as we’ve seen, the banning of specific books from prisons can be awfully arbitrary.

This increase in extremist reading material (or, more exactly, this increase in confiscations, which is not the same thing as an increase in materials) coincides with the wave of right-wing nationalism and isolationism currently sweeping Europe and the United States. It seems unwise to recreate that antipathy on any scale, let alone among those whose freedoms have already been taken away. Put differently, if Western aggression and hostility tend to stoke Islamic religious extremism, badgering those who have already lost the most reads as a counterproductive counter-terrorism effort.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.