Leading the Way: Europe’s Experts and Decision Makers views on Extremism Response

Read this edition’s article delving into Europe’s approach to extremism, and exploring the rise of conspiracy theories, incel culture, and far-right extremism.

There is a need to improve post-penal support for VEPs and radicalised inmates to support their full reintegration into their communities.

Tanja Rakušić-Hadžić, Head of the Cooperation in Police, and Deprivation of Liberty Division of Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe

Tanja Rakušić-Hadžić

Head of the Cooperation in Police, and Deprivation of Liberty Division of Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe
The CPDL provides significant support to the authorities in the Western Balkans region in tackling radicalisation in prisons. However, despite the efforts made, certain challenges remain to be addressed.
 
The repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters and their families from Syria is still an ongoing process in the Western Balkans. Furthermore, recent years have been marked by several developments that require all jurisdictions in the region and beyond to remain vigilant and closely monitor ongoing radicalisation trends.
 

In terms of challenges ahead, ensuring sustainable management of VEPs and other radicalised inmates and preparing them for release still remains the greatest challenge.

Some beneficiaries report that the specific risk and needs assessment (RNA) tools and rehabilitation programmes are not fully applied in practice mainly due to systemic deficiencies and institutional weaknesses, but also to high staff turnover, which leads to a lack of trust in staff and requires additional investment in training. As a solution, we have developed human resource management plans with some of the beneficiaries, providing them with clear strategies and guidelines for the allocation of penitentiary human resources to ensure sustainability in the fight against radicalisation in prison settings.
 
Additional efforts are also needed to further improve post-penal support for VEPs and radicalised inmates and to support their full reintegration into their communities, by ensuring the coherence of the prison-to-release continuum and by involving all relevant stakeholders in the process.
 

Finally, strengthening the role of probation services in the process is another area that requires our collective attention and support. The ongoing regional project will continue to build the capacity of existing probation services and other similar service providers in the Western Balkans region.

It is crucial to ensure that the strategies employed in prisons to counter extremism are not only well-intentioned but also genuinely effective in achieving lasting transformation.

Dr Denion Meidani, Director of the Coordination Center for Countering Violent Extremism (Ministry of Interior of Albania)

Dr Denion Meidani

Director of the Coordination Center for Countering Violent Extremism (Ministry of Interior of Albania)
Prisons today, especially in the context of extremism, require strategic actions due to life-altering sentences and the risk of radicalisation. An innovative approach to addressing these challenges involves multilayered strategies, local capacity strengthening, community awareness, and resilience. Recognising the interconnectedness of the criminal justice system and promoting collaborative efforts through “smart power” principles are crucial steps in addressing these urgent issues.
 

Ultimately, we should aim to create safer communities and facilitate successful reintegration for individuals who have turned to violent extremism. Many countries recognise the limitations of traditional prison systems and are reorganising their correctional services to emphasise cooperation with municipalities, non-profit organisations, volunteers, and the social networks of offenders.

Extremism is a significant global threat, that requires such a modified approach, and prisons play a crucial role in addressing this challenge by preparing inmates convicted of extremism-related offences for reintegration into society, while preventing environments conducive to radicalisation.

These efforts require considering various interconnected factors within the criminal justice system, including offender characteristics, social networks, sanctions, legal changes, and societal developments, while upholding principles such as respect for personhood, meaningful autonomy, but especially self-repair, and self-formulation.

Embracing a rehabilitative approach within the correctional system, allowing a dynamic interaction between the hard and soft powers at play within that ecosystem should align security with the principles of fostering social cohesion and reducing the likelihood of reoffending, otherwise referred to as “Smart Power”, contributing to overall community safety.

Despite the evident need for comprehensive rehabilitation strategies, there are key areas requiring attention for managing Violent Extremist Prisoners:

• Security Intelligence and Data Sharing: Strengthening intelligence and data-sharing in and out of prisons is vital for identifying and addressing threats effectively;
• Individualized Risk and Needs Assessments: Enhancing the capacity for tailored assessments enables targeted rehabilitation plans addressing specific vulnerabilities and triggers;
• Interdisciplinary Disengagement Interventions: Expanding interdisciplinary interventions, involving professionals like psychologists, social workers, and religious counsellors, is essential for tackling the complexity of extremism;
• Social Reintegration Prospects: Improving coordination between pre-release and post-release service providers which optimizes resource allocation and risk reduction, ultimately improving rehabilitation outcomes.

It is crucial to ensure that the strategies employed in prisons to counter extremism are not only well-intentioned but also genuinely effective in achieving lasting transformation. For this we need to advocate for more independent evaluations, to determine their efficacy.

Through dedication and innovation, we aim to create safer communities and successfully reintegrate individuals who have turned to violent extremism.

The heterogeneity of the violent extremist population necessitates tailored programmes, especially considering the increasing prevalence of psychiatric conditions.

Laurent Ridel, Director of the Prison Administration, France

Laurent Ridel

Director of the Prison Administration, France
Since 2014-2015 we’ve had to deal with a totally unprecedented wave of violent Islamist terrorist prisoners which has posed unique challenges. The sudden arrival of hundreds of proselytising inmates with the intent of radicalising others required an immediate response.
 
To address this, a step-by-step strategy was developed, focusing on assessing and addressing the root causes of radicalisation. Extensive staff training was carried out, and monthly meetings held to identify potentially radicalised detainees. Those identified were placed in radicalisation assessment areas, where comprehensive evaluations took place, involving psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, prison officials, and specialists in Islam.
 
According to assessed risk levels, detainees could either be returned to the mainstream prison population with monitoring, be placed in solitary confinement for reassessment, or enter radicalisation management units with individualised disengagement programmes.
 
Our research indicates that 80% of these detainees had no previous prison experience, indicating that radicalisation can occur in various backgrounds. Moreover, there was significant heterogeneity within this population, necessitating tailored programmes, especially considering the increasing prevalence of psychiatric conditions. There are also problems linked to a lack of integration into society, which means that people can develop a sense of unease, sometimes hatred, and a desire for revenge.

To deal with extremism in an effective way, we must identify radicalisation early on.

Katja Meier, State Minister of Justice and for Democracy, Europe, and Gender Equality, Saxony, Germany

Katja Meier

State Minister of Justice and for Democracy, Europe, and Gender Equality, Saxony, Germany
When the current State Government was voted into office, we all agreed that there cannot be any room for radicalisation in our correctional facilities. It is therefore necessary to develop special programmes focusing on prevention and de-radicalisation. In cooperation with other authorities and researchers in the field of criminology, we have created KUrteG, a policy plan for dealing with radicalised, terrorist, and extremist inmates.
 
This plan addresses practical matters, such as how to deal with violent extremists within the penitentiary, as well as ways of de-radicalising prisoners or making sure that they do not become radicalised while in prison.
 

The policy plan consists of several individual parts, including training courses for members of staff, matters of security, and how to accommodate terrorists or people who have been imprisoned for politically motivated crimes. KUrteG also suggests ways in which the different authorities can better cooperate, and it addresses the topic of prevention. To deal with extremism in an effective way, we must identify radicalisation early on.

The prison environment can act as a trigger for opportunistic alliances between extremists of different persuasions because of their shared hatred for the authorities.

Dr Francesco Farinelli, Programme Director, European Foundation for Democracy

Dr Francesco Farinelli

Programme Director, European Foundation for Democracy

In research, prisons are seen as places of vulnerability that can foster radicalisation.

It is generally assumed that the main factors of the radicalisation processes in the prison environment include the influence of charismatic or spiritual leaders, feelings of alienation, perceptions of oppression, the harshness of the environment, and contact with extremists.
 
It should also be highlighted that individuals are usually more receptive to extremist ideologies when their own identity is questioned, and prisons are an environment that leads to the search for a new identity, trust, and hope, making them more vulnerable to extremist ideologies.
 
Furthermore, inmates, frequently hailing from marginalised backgrounds, may carry traumas, rendering them less equipped to handle the pressures of prison life. This vulnerability can lead them to seek protection by affiliating with prison gangs, providing extremists with an additional avenue to exert influence.
 
Finally, internal conditions in prisons can also act as a trigger for the emergence of opportunistic alliances between extremists of different persuasions because of their shared hatred for the authorities, namely the police and prison service.
 
Against this background, challenges linked to the rehabilitation of violent extremists and criminals are part of the work the prison system faces daily. Various programmes, spanning from education to cultural activities, aid in rehabilitating violent detainees and promoting their integration into society, reducing the likelihood of violent extremist behaviour.
 

For instance, Greece’s ‘Second Chance School’ provides comprehensive education to inmates, fostering their participation in economic, social, and cultural realms.

In Czechia, an educational approach empowers inmates with responsibilities like tending to plants and animals, instilling a sense of ownership. Denmark’s ‘Back on Track’ program aids detainees in disengaging from extremist environments through mentoring, redirecting their focus towards positive post-release networks.
 

These examples represent practices that can be implemented and tailored to suit other EU countries. They present an opportunity for the prison system to address the critical need to diminish radicalisation processes within correctional facilities and to facilitate the effective reintegration of individuals with a history of violence back into society.

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