Convicted terrorists held within these prisons are regularly transferred to different locations. A single unit for Islamist terrorists has been dubbed by the media a “British Alcatraz,” a reference to the US prison built on an island off San Francisco to contain dangerous prisoners. A more apt analogy would be the “British Guantanamo,” in reference to the United States military prison camp in Cuba, where prisoners deemed “unlawful combatants” are held by the US authorities in order to deny them official prisoner-of-war status and the most rudimentary human rights.
The new secure unit could be contained within one of the six maximum-security prisons—a “prison within a prison”—or could be established as a new separate entity.
The proposal for a separate unit comes from a review of how to deal with prisoners convicted of terrorist offences, set up by the Justice Secretary Michael Gove. The review, led by former prison governor and senior Home Office official Ian Acheson, is to be published in March.
The last occasion in the UK when prisoners were held together based on sharing an ideological belief was the infamous “H block” cells in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. In the H blocks, the inmates were deemed to be political prisoners and were classed as either loyalists or nationalists, and duly segregated.
In a recent speech, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron all but signed up to setting up a separate unit for Muslims convicted of terrorist offences. He said, “I am prepared to consider major changes: from the imams we allow to preach in prison to changing the locations and methods for dealing with prisoners convicted of terrorism offences, if that is what is required.”