Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Written evidence submitted by Sharee Watson (CTSB08)

‘Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21’ Written Evidence

Points covered:

- Disparity in convictions and accusations of terrorism

- Previous attempts at deradicalization

- Causes of recidivism

- Possible ways to decrease likelihood of recidivism in terrorism crimes.

- The use of polygraph testing

Thank you for allowing for the submission of written evidence. My name is Sharee Claire Louise Watson and I am submitting this evidence as an individual, on a personal basis, who feels very strongly about the impact and importance of rehabilitation and de-radicalization.

I would like to offer my opinions on the act and the affect this may have on the prison system, public and public relations.

The attacks both at Fishmongers Hall and Streatham which were directly referenced with the emergency legislation were deplorable acts and I grieve for those that lost their lives. However, I think it is important to consider what the imposing of this bill will do for the prison population and the social impacts.

Currently, as I am sure you are aware there is disparity although slight, in the conviction, accusation and determination of terrorism and there has been for some times, referring back to a review done by the Home Office in 2013, it found that those arrested and charged with terrorism were 41% Muslim upon self-reporting. Although 41% individually is not a majority it is important to consider it is greater than the other two reported groups when considered individually (37 and 32% respectively for other religion and no religion) (Home Office, 2013). Allow me to explain further, Prevent, a government funded agency has been known to have accused and pursued individuals for ‘terrorist’ behaviour when in fact their only crime is being a person of colour supporting a cause. An example of this was Rahmaan Mohammadi who was investigated at age 14 as he was wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ Badge. This along with portrayal in media and also reporting are examples of the cultural biases that exist already. When a white individual commits a crime such as a mass shooting, even when they have written and disclosed an agenda in a manifesto, they may be described as having ‘terrorist like tendencies. This disparity is harmful to the basis of the bill going forward and believe that should also be addressed in order for my later points to be considered. Whilst I know there is a social movement and dialogue existing about this already, I did think it is important to note and reference in this discussion.

Now, the imposition of harsher sentencing for those convicted of terrorism is not inherently bad, it could have avoided situations such as those referenced above, from happening. However, as a Forensic Psychology graduate, I do feel deeply about how prison and rehabilitation is an important tool in order to help and not hinder people from developing, growing and changing their belief system.

It is not a secret that attempts to decrease recidivism have been made globally in response to terrorist incidences, one of note is the Saudi initiative to de-radicalize (John Horgan, 2012). However, I think this is something we need to look into further, instead of creating this narrative of ‘evil’ people who need to be locked up longer I believe it would be beneficial for the government and CPS and HMPS to consider how the investment and dedication to de-radicalization would impact differently.

In prosecuting cases like this, the precedent at this stage is people offend, go to prison, get let out and reoffend, often with disastrous consequences if we are to take the Fishmonger Hall and Streatham attacks as examples. If we alter the narrative to ‘people are radicalized, go to prison, get help with their beliefs and then are released along with continued support’ we change the story and with changing the story we change the publics fear. A great example is a psychological study where the impact of the words used is explored in how people react to it. The study found that the more outwardly aggressive/impactful language was used, the more participants predicted the severity of the impact to be. To be exact, participants watched a video of a car accident, they were then split into groups and asked how fast the car was going when it made impact. However, each group was given a different word for example ‘Bumped’ vs ‘Crashed’. The study directly showed that those given the more aggressive/impactful word overestimated the speed. (Loftus & Palmer, 1974). This is relevant here as, if we continue this pursuit of terrorist individuals as an act with harsher sentencing and longer custodial sentences, we are doing nothing to A) assure the public they are safe but B) to improve the publics willingness to accept and help those who are de-radicalized.

One of the hardest things for someone who has been in prison, for any crime, is the social isolation they may experience upon their release. This social isolation leads to, often times, reverting to the same people, places and actions that the individual used to practice and thereby increases recidivism. My point here is that, if we change the narrative and focus more on rehabilitation/de-radicalization we do not promote fear and thereby we do not foster an environment of exclusion for when the individuals are ready to be released and this in turn decreases the likelihood of recidivism in the individual and protects our country that way.

The last point I would like to consider is the motion to utilize polygraph testing for those released on license, mentioned in the proposed bill. Whilst polygraph testing can be helpful, It is only a measure of arousal. When considering this statement, it is important to note that arousal means physical reactions caused by a response to something, i.e. the electro-currents are increased due to reacting to a stimulus. Whilst polygraph testing can be helpful and effective in some cases I do believe it is important to mention that in this country, as standard this is used mainly on sexual predators and paedophiles. I believe it would be important for the law makers to present and quantify the effects they believe the use of a polygraph would have in instances of a terrorism related offender. In my understanding, I would suppose the test could be used in order to evaluate the reaction to certain political/religions prompts depending on the offender. However, I would be interested to hear how counter-measures could be put in place to account for reactions of fear/regret someone who is genuinely deradicalized may experience upon seeing a prompt that would remind them of their previous ideologies.

I would like to take the time to thank you for considering my statement and please do reach out if I can offer any further information or discussion.

June 2020


Prepared 1st July 2020