How to prevent radicalisation in prison and probation ? Efus and other European stakeholders exchange at an EU conference

Brussels, Belgium, March 2018 — As coordinator of the PREPARE European project on the prevention of radicalisation in prison and probation, Efus took part in a conference on this theme organised by the European Commission together with the European Organisation of Prison and Correctional Services (Europris) and the Confederation of European Probation (CEP), in Brussels on 27 February. Several European projects were presented, such as R2pris, which is focused on training programmes enabling prison officers to detect and reduce the vulnerability of prisoners to radicalism, DARE, on assessing the risk of violent extremism, or RIVE, a French project to monitor and manage radicalised individuals.

Apart from these and other projects, discussions mainly focused on a number of topics, such as the relevance of risk assessment toolsspecificity and content of training programmesfor prison and probation staff, the efficiency of rehabilitation programmes the different responses to the phenomenon of the returnees, in particular minors.

Risk assessment tools: still in the early stages

Regarding risk assessment tools, which involve gathering and analysing data, there are quite pronounced differences among European countries. Although these tools are still in their early stages, they have evolved fast in the past few years and keep improving. Those most commonly used today are VERA-2, IR46 or ERG+22. Even though they are effective in detecting positive or negative changes among prisoners, participants expressed their concern about the undermining effects of such tools, such as the risk of labelling prisoners, a loss of legitimacy among prison officers vis-à-vis inmates, and the risk of alienation. Participants stressed the need to work  toward a pan-European, shared risk assessment tool for violent extremist offenders.

What content for training programmes?

The discussion on training programmes for prison and probation staff mainly focused on the kind of content they should include. In Europe, training programmes vary from country to country. For instance, in some EU Member States trainings are mainly  focused on Islamist extremism, while others have already adopted a more global approach promoting in-depth knowledge among practitioners about the different extremist ideologies. Participants also stressed the need to have standardised training material within and across Member States.

Rehabilitation: ensuring coherence between in- and out-prison programmes

It is interesting to note that the term “de-radicalisation” has been removed from the EU institutions’ official vocabulary . Indeed, Sir Julian King, Commissioner in charge of the Security of the Union, confirmed in his closing speech that this term is not relevant anymore and that the preferred term is disengagement, which refers to changes of behaviour rather than in ideology.

Concerning specialist psychological interventions, theological and pastoral support or social help, special mention was made to the fact that intervention opportunities in prison will always depend on the duration of the sentence. Participants stressed the importance of linking prison and release because it is a crucial phase in the rehabilitation process, where coherence between in- and out-prison programmes is essential.

Even though this point was not mentioned in the discussion, it is important to stress here that  local authorities can actively contribute in this process. The PREPARE project, through which nine local actions for the prevention of violent radicalisation in prison and probation are being developed, is a direct answer to this concern of in-out consistency.

Returnees: towards a case-by-case management

Concerning the management of individuals who return from war zones, participants stressed the importance of having a differentiated approach on a case-by-case basis, depending on the profile of each individual. One example is the need to have a different response for male and female returnees, since they have a very different experience and type of involvement in war zones.

This principle of differentiation is particularly relevant when it comes to child returnees, who have become a key priority for EU institutions and individual Member States alike. Experiences in this field are very few and stakeholders who are in contact with the public express an urgent need for EU guidelines and recommendations.

The role of local authorities in prevention in prison and probation

Although cooperation among the various stakeholders was to be one of the main topics of the conference, there was actually little debate about the involvement  of local organisations at the release and reintegration stages. Nevertheless, Efus had the opportunity to illustrate and highlight the role of local authorities in these preventive processes at the CEP workshop, held on 28 February. Efus presented the PREPARE project and the different activities that will be undertaken by the consortium’s local and regional authorities.

This consortium, which is currently in the process of being established, will set up local and multi-agency disengagement and rehabilitation programmes specifically designed for prison release and probation.