PREPARE: a look at how European countries prevent radicalisation through probation and release

Paris, France, March 2019The Efus-led PREPARE project on the prevention of radicalisation in prison and through probation and release has established a state of the art in several European countries. The project is publishing a series of seven articles prepared by the project experts in Belgium, France, Germany the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, and the UK.

Below is a summary of each of these articles. (Click on the links to access the full version).

> Belgium: an integrated approach implemented at each of the three levels of government

In Belgium, a federal country, competences with regard to radicalisation are spread over the different levels of government: the federal level is responsible for repression; the French, Flemish and German communities are competent with regard to prevention, social care and education; and the Regions (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels) cover the cities and municipalities.

Strategies to deal with radicalisation are developed at all levels, with a vision of an integrated approach, which implies coordination and cooperation. Cities and municipalities play an important role and have worked for many years now on the topic of radicalisation, notably because they have been confronted with the issue of local residents leaving for theatres of armed conflict, especially Syria and Iraq, to participate in or support terrorist acts.

> France: a comprehensive plan against violent radicalisation with the progressive involvement of local authorities

Since 2014, France has adopted a series of comprehensive policies against violent radicalisation, including in prison and in probation. Over the years, the role of local authorities in preventing radicalisation has been strengthened although they rarely directly manage individuals who are radicalised or in a process of being so.

Apart from measures taken directly by the penitentiary authorities, the French government has sought to tackle radicalism in prison and probation through various plans published in 2014, 2016 and 2018. However, the methodology for doing so has evolved over the years.

Penitentiary authorities cooperate with local authorities at the time of release from prison in order to ensure offenders are monitored locally and offered support once they reintegrate the local community.

> Germany: a hybrid model with an overall security-focused approach

Because of Germany’s complex federal system, neither a purely state-led nor a civil society-focused approach has prevailed so far even though there is an overall trend towards a more security-focused approach. Efforts in favour of a diversity of approaches are still being made, especially for youth care. This leads to a comparatively high amount of pilot projects that aim at innovation but also at improving or complementing existing programmes and projects.

This diversity in approach certainly sets Germany apart from other European countries. In light of the need for professional diversity when facing a threat such as extremist ideologies and the various factors supporting it, this diverse strategy is already proving its worth and has the potential to continue to do so. In this context, different experiences and approaches should be understood as an opportunity rather than a lack of fixed standards. Some major challenges remain: most notably, the still insecure and short-term funding structures  and consequently the uncertain ability of NGOs to secure qualified staff for this field in the long run.

> Netherlands: a strong local emphasis on de-radicalisation, disengagement and rehabilitation programmes

The Dutch approach can be summarised as multi-agency, integrated and comprehensive with a local implementation. Both prison and probation contribute to de-radicalisation, disengagement and re-integration and do so in cooperation with local municipalities. The local approach has national support.

The government is implementing a comprehensive, national anti-terrorist strategy covering the period 2016-2020, which includes preventive, repressive and curative measures. For their part, local authorities are responsible for individual case management and tailor-made personalised approaches.

Whether serving a sentence for terrorism or any other offence, prisoners all have an individual “Detention and re-integration plan” focused on rehabilitation and reintegration after release. For extremist offenders, this plan takes the form of a de facto de-radicalisation programme.

Furthermore, the Dutch Probation board supports the Dutch comprehensive approach. They developed their own approach in 2012, titled “Terrorism, Extremism and Radicalisation”.

> Sweden: a programme originally designed for the disengagement of gang members

There are about 90 individuals in custody in Sweden for violent extremism, the majority of whom are from an Islamist background and the rest from a neo-Nazi environment. The national strategy adopted by the Swedish authorities to deal with these offenders is based on four key principles: encouraging them to change their life; monitoring them to identify any change; building trust with these prisoners to encourage them to change; referring them to the Entré programme originally designed for gang members wishing to leave their gang.

The Entré programme is currently being tested by the Swedish Prison and Probation service for inmates involved in violent extremism. Upon release, Entré provides support through multi-agency cooperation to help the individual find accommodation, a job, to study or to work with a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The objectives are to support the client in building a new life and to create a sustainable environment where the risk of reoffending and re-connecting with violent extremist groups is reduced.

Although there hasn’t been a proper evaluation as such, the preliminary results of Entré are encouraging.  

> Spain: 15 years of work on radicalisation in prison

In Spain, the first measures aiming at preventing, detecting, following up on and neutralising possible radicalisation processes in prison were taken in the wake of the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

The government adopted in 2015 the National Strategic Plan Against Violent Radicalisation (Plan estratégico nacional de lucha contra la radicalización violenta), which replicates at national level the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy as well as the subsequent and more concrete EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism.

The plan includes a “special reference to the treatment in penitentiary centres of cases of individuals imprisoned for their involvement in acts of violence or, in any case, for links with terrorism.” In such cases, the penitentiary authorities “must monitor and evaluate [the prisoners’] activity within the centres where they serve their sentence.”

In particular, there are two national programmes dealing specifically with radical prisoners, dated from 2014 and 2016. Their objectives are notably to encourage prisoners to disengage from radicalism, and to prevent the spread of radical ideas and recruitment of militants in prison.

Furthermore, local authorities are involved in monitoring and handling radical offenders after release with the objective of encouraging them to disengage. To do so, they work with local multi-agency partnerships.

> United Kingdom: a strategy for the early prevention of radicalisation including in prison and probation

The United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) has a four-pronged anti-terrorist strategy that includes a strand, “Prevent”, aimed at preventing at the earliest possible stage individuals from being drawn to radicalism. This strategy was updated in 2015 to include the role of prison and probation in prevention and disengagement.

The Prevent strategy includes a section specifically dedicated to prevention in prison and probation. In prison there is an emphasis on initial and ongoing risk assessment and intelligence gathering. Risk may be managed through the privilege system, anti-bullying intervention, adjudication or segregation. Appropriate theological, motivational or behavioural programmes may also be offered.

On release, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) should be used to manage risk and consideration should be given to referral to the Channel programme. This is a programme through which the police work with local councils, social workers, National Health Service staff, schools and the justice system to identify and work with those at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

> Read more about PREPARE