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“Extremists will find it easier to fill the (spiritual and material) vacuum created by prisons that fail to provide prisoners with a set of meaningful activities.”

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Prisons can also, however, have a positive impact on (Violent Extremist Offenders) VEOs. Following a period of imprisonment most VEOs are released back into society, and without their de-radicalisation and dis-engagement, they can pose a continuing security threat. De-radicalisation and rehabilitation of VEOs in prison is a relatively new frontier in the fight against ideological and religious extremism and its violent manifestations.

The logic behind de-radicalisation is that if an individual can adopt radical beliefs and attitudes that lead to violent extremism, then the individual can also abandon those beliefs and attitudes. De-radicalisation programmes therefore focus on the social and psychological process whereby an individual’s commitment to, and involvement in, violent extremism is reduced to the extent that they are no longer at risk of involvement and engagement in violent activity.

Developing cognitive programmes that assist VEOs in defining the issues that pushed them towards violent extremist behaviour in the first place, and subsequently in formulating objectives and identifying and implementing activity to tackle the root causes of their violent extremism, can be a challenging task. Although de-radicalisation programmes must be tailored to local conditions, cultures, and legal traditions, Global Counter Terrorism Forum members have identified a series of non-binding good practices that can serve as the foundation for States’ policies and programmes. 

These are set out in the Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders.
Programmes which are currently being run to de-radicalise VEOs are: small in number; operate in just a handful of jurisdictions; and are inevitably embedded in the cultures and societies in which they are developed and delivered. There is limited information known about the structure, rationale or approaches underlining the de-radicalisation programmes that do exist. What research there is suggests that de-radicalisation programmes have the best chance of succeeding when they are nestled in a safe, secure and well managed custodial setting in which the human rights of prisoners are respected. Interventions tend to focus on educational programmes that counter nationalist ideologies and narratives that explain and justify state actions (such as the occupation of a specific region or the searching of Mosques) through more inclusive rhetoric which is fact- rather than rumour based. Interventions also tend to focus on religious (re)education which makes clear that killing is wrong and is not a correct interpretation of the Holy Koran or Bible; and the use of religious scholars to explain that there is no religious duty to kill and that there is no religious necessity for a jihad.

“…De-radicalisation programmes have the best chance of succeeding when they are nestled in a safe, secure and well managed custodial setting in which the human rights of prisoners are respected.” 

Rehabilitation of (Violent Extremist Offenders) VEOs should also involve a variety of activities, in addition to psychological-social-religious programme interventions. These additional rehabilitation elements can include: education; vocational training; creative therapies; social, cultural, and family activity; and recreation. Research indicates that broader contextual circumstances (such as healthy relationships, feeling safe, opportunities to walk away from groups or causes) can be as important as specific targeted interventions.

The most secure, safest and best ordered prisons are those in which staff acknowledge the humanity of those in their care and seek to rehabilitate them, whatever their offence and views that they may hold. These are the prisons which are likely to contribute the most to the future safety of our communities. Observing these ideals in the management of VEOs is one of the greatest challenges facing those who work in any prison system.

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