Violent extremism in prisons

Published: January 23, 2017
Email
The writer is the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

The writer is the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Violent extremism today presents a chilling challenge to the world’s prison correction communities.

Anis Amri, shot dead before Christmas by Italian police after killing 12 people in the Berlin terrorist attack, was allegedly radicalised in prison. His story follows a shocking trajectory that enables murderous terrorism due to the incitement and recruitment of vulnerable prisoners.

Cases such as Amri’s show that, today, for the small minority, prisons have become the first step towards committing horrific acts of mayhem and destruction. How can we get this minority back on the rehabilitation path and defeat the violent extremists. While no quick remedy exists, there are approaches that can make prisoners less susceptible.

Extremist recruiters are adept at spotting fragile inmates open to joining extremist causes and who can be convinced to commit terrorist acts upon release. Using the tedium of prison life, they exploit hatreds and frustrations and bend inmates towards a shared ideological commitment to using violence.

Prisons may not help by exerting their own coercive pressures encouraging prisoners to join groups due to violence, threatening behaviour, overcrowding and poor management. Based on UNODC’s assessments in a recent publication on managing violent extremist prisoners, there are three crucial areas requiring intervention: prison staff training, risk management, and rehabilitation efforts.

Prison staff, including its management, must build constructive relations to protect, maintain, and uphold the dignity of inmates. Every staff member should receive specialist training on working with violent extremist prisoners.

Professionalism, ethics, as well as support for staff coping with stress are at the centre of this work. Sufficient staff need to be employed and trained to safeguard everyone’s security.

Risk management is founded on implementing the appropriate security measures to ensure inmates are held in safe custody and on good, solid prison intelligence. It starts with a risk-based assessment on the prisoner’s arrival and should continue with dedicated prison intelligence systems. Such work can inform interventions and rehabilitation and help prison management make strategic decisions on a prisoner’s future.

Professional judgment needs to be applied when making these assessments. Post-release assessments can assist prisoners to disengage from violence and to eventually return to their communities.

Rehabilitation and disengagement are underpinned by the logic that those prisoners who become engaged can also be turned away from radical beliefs and attitudes. To be effective, attention needs to be given to gender, countries and cultures, as well as the prison environment.

Our goal must be behavioural change allied to an acceptance that radical beliefs do not always threaten prisons or communities. Only a small number of radicals become violent extremists. Further research is needed on all aspects of disengagement interventions to appreciate the situation.

One of our strongest instruments is the adoption and full implementation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules. The rules set out good practices on prisoner treatment and prison management.

Violent extremism and radicalisation in prisons and their relationship to terrorism are high on the international agenda. The world cannot have individuals entering prisons who may already feel angry and frustrated only to have them leave more embittered and determined to kill.

No simple cure exists; but while the violent extremists seek to groom recruits, we also have time to promote dignity and humanity and to set prisoners on the path to their communities and to never looking back. This journey begins with the creation of fair and just prison systems.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2017.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (2)

  • Toti calling
    Jan 24, 2017 - 10:43AM

    One of the major reasons why this happens is because those who brainwash prisoners, do it in the name of Islam and Muslims are not allowed to express any view which could be interpreted as anti Islam. So if you keep on hearing one version for a long time in prisons, slowly but surely it changes your mind to extremism. An open discussion is not harmful in any way, but it shouldn’t be a one way street.Recommend

  • reader
    Jan 24, 2017 - 12:51PM

    Terrorism is directly linked to brainwashing, indoctrination, people who do the indoctrination are the minds behind every terror incident. There has to be a counter narrative, a better narrative, a more persuasive narrative about life. This is what Pakistan has to understand as a nation, we have to decide what should this counter narrative be, in place of what the people who spread terrorism. .Recommend

More in Opinion