CEP Senior Advisor Ian Acheson, a former U.K. jail governor who led the independent review into extremism in prisons, in an opinion piece in the Sun newspaper, discusses the need for ISIS propagandist Anjem Choudary to "disappear from public consciousness" and the prison "separation" program he championed.
I am in no doubt that Anjem Choudary poses a genuine, serious risk to national security when he returns to our streets.
He is clearly a narcissist whose attention-seeking behaviour is driven by a deep-seated need to be relevant and talked about.
His time in prison, having served half of a five-and-a-half-year sentence for inviting support for IS – reduced his public profile very effectively.
But I am pessimistic about the chances of it having changed his beliefs.
When I first recommended the creation of separation units for highly subversive extremist prisoners in 2016, the idea was given a hostile reception by the upper echelons of the Prison Service and many criminologists.
It was done in response to our findings of a serious, unchecked and growing threat posed by jailed radicalisers held in close proximity to potential recruits.
Choudary’s selection for separation is consistent with the ethos of the units.
His offence relates directly to preaching Islamist ideology outside the prison walls.
He is widely believed to have motivated at least 100 people to become involved in terrorism, according to intelligence reports disclosed during his trial.
However, I fear that in Choudary’s case any genuine change in mindset would require much longer in custody and quite sophisticated interventions which just don’t exist yet.
Nevertheless, holding him in a separation unit will have shielded vulnerable targets inside from his influence.
In other words, it has stopped him from radicalising others and may potentially have averted future terrorist attacks.
The number of atrocities prevented by separation units in this way may never be measurable, but the lives saved will be very real. With Choudary on the verge of freedom and unreformed, my hunch is that he will breach his licence conditions either by accident or design.
Ultimately, the best way to neutralise Choudary is to exploit the one thing he probably fears most.
He feeds off of being in the public consciousness. Terrorists hate normality. As long as he is treated as a bogeyman, he has power.
Once people start seeing him as a simple ex-con, the allure fades.
We need to develop a partnership with communities to manage terrorist offenders like Choudary together on release.
We need people like Choudary to disappear from public consciousness.
Separation in custody can protect the public, deny access to potential new recruits and provide the space for them to disengage from their hateful beliefs.
Releasing one of IS’s most successful recruiters back into society to finish his sentence will surely give Choudary back the power he has not really had in prison.
The authorities have their work cut out for them.
To read the opinion piece in its entirety, please click here.