Violent Extremism in Prisons: Behind Bars, but Not Locked Up
By Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
Albanian Daily News
Published January 22, 2017

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 and 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
judgement 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 radicalization 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.



By Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office
on Drugs and Crime





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