London Bridge Attack Sparks Debate Over Rehabilitation Policy

In the aftermath of a tragedy, British politicians have resorted to finger-pointing, with two innocent lives lost at the hands of a supposedly rehabilitated terrorist. Boris Johnson and Labour chose to play the blame game, and despite the victims family’s wishes, have politicized a tragedy. Each points their finger at the other, blaming and accusing who allowed this violent man to back out onto the street.

Usman Khan was released from prison after eight years, on a license to attend a rehabilitation program. Instead of participating in this healing process, he viciously stabbed two young members of the public. He was ultimately shot and killed by the police after being apprehended by members of the public, one a Polish Chef wielding a five-foot-long Narwhal tusk, the other a man reported by the London Evening Standard to be John Crilly. Crilly was convicted of killing a 71-year-old woman and was entering the final stretches of his sentence. He was in the area for the same reason as Khan, rehabilitation. Yet we see two different outcomes. It is possible to bring these men back, but Khan is what failure to do so looks like.

The question here shouldn’t be what politician is to blame for Khan to be out, but rather why eight years in prison was unable to turn a man away from the path of violence. With terrorism becoming a growing threat, perhaps the most powerful tool to fight it is the ability to break the cycle and de-radicalize those sucked into the world of extremist violence.

The Guardian reported that “Khan (the perpetrator) was convicted in 2012 in a complex court case; convicted of planning to set up a terrorist camp in Pakistan and planned to travel there to carry out attacks.” Clearly Khan was one of these individuals sucked deep into this violent world. Yet 8 years spent with the state failed to re-integrate him. This is an unacceptable failing. While billions are spent to drone-strike potential terrorists, scarcely comparable resources are allocated to preventing citizens from becoming full-blown terrorists or bringing them back into our society.

What is needed as opposed to further punitive measures that fill our prisons, is better rehabilitation and compassion, or else we create men like Khan. Men who have been abandoned by society, on whom we have locked the door and thrown away the key. While de-radicalisation is perhaps one of the hardest tasks given to all our prison systems, it is vital we as an international community do not fail in this task. The Guardian opines that “Longer prison sentences may soothe immediate, understandable feelings of fear and anger, but that’s only temporary,” what is forever is the ability to take men like John Crilly, that convicted murder, and to turn them into heroes. This attack casts a light on the consequences of failing to rehabilitate our criminals but also shows how incredible that process can be if successful.

Angus Wilson