September 8, 2023 | BBC Newsnight

Julia Ebner on UK counter-terrorism strategy: Prisons are in “dire” state, more to do in deradicalisation space

ISD Senior Resident Research Fellow Julia Ebner joins BBC Newsnight to discuss the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy and the country’s prison system in light of terror suspect Daniel Khalife’s escape from Wandsworth, a category B prison in South West London. In conversation with host Kirsty Wark, Julia points out that Khalife should have qualified to be in a maximum security category A prison because of the degree of charges against him. “Also considering that he is a former soldier, he might have had expertise in terms of escape routes, in terms of just knowing a little bit how the system works, so I think that really points to severe issues in the chain of decision making that was really important.”

Julia explains how the decision of holding Khalife in a category B prison shows that “there is probably a bigger, a wider problem within the UK’s security system, especially when it relates to the different decisions being made, and the communication between the intelligence and security community and the prisons systems. Also there is a big issue, of course, in terms of capacity but also the skills of the prison officers who are often not aware of terrorist offenders and how to deal with them.”

When asked if there should have been red flags when deciding where to place him, Julia points out how the threat landscape has greatly evolved over the last five years, when considering the visibility of threats such as ISIS, yet the counter-terrorism strategy “hasn’t significantly changed or updated, and now recently there was this newly published version of it but until we see these changes being implemented that will take some time.”

And with less visibility, there has been less prioritisation of investment in rehabilitation and deradicalisation programmes. “The prisons are in dire state in this country and they have been for sometime. And there are so many studies that show that prisons are hotbeds for radicalisation. We’ve seen really high reoffence rates in the UK, and where we need bigger investments, not just in the capacity- in the upscaling and upskilling of prison staff-, but also investments in rehabilitation programmes,” she said.

Julia’s full interview with BBC Newsnight is available on our YouTube channel.