I. Introduction and Guiding Principles
Prison settings present both risks and opportunities with respect to violent extremist offenders. Prisons have a two-fold mission to protect society by confining offenders in facilities that are safe, humane, and secure and to ensure that offenders are actively participating in programs that will assist them in becoming law-abiding citizens when they return to our communities. However, poorly managed detention facilities of any type1 could become potent incubators of radicalization. With a literally captive audience, violent extremist ideologues have access to potential recruits, some of them may be coming with their own violent or troubled criminal pasts. Moreover, these recruiters may be able to tap into the prisoner’s anger, frustration and sense of injustice about being incarcerated. Due to the revolving nature of prison populations, there is a continuous supply of potential new converts. In the absence of effective management, this prison-based problem will likely only grow worse as countries seek to prosecute and detain the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in Iraq and Syria – as well as other conflict zones – when they return home in the years ahead. On the other hand, a well-managed prison, with effective programs and policies in place, affords authorities a unique opportunity to work with FTFs and other violent extremist offenders to influence their future behavior positively. A well-managed prison is understood to mean a prison that functions based on the principles of good governance and adherence to human rights standards.
While prison is not the only place where violent extremist radicalization occurs, it needs to be part of the overall solution. While it is difficult to determine the scale and scope of the phenomenon in the different countries, there is evidence of cases where individuals are suspected to have been radicalized during their time in prison and went on to commit terrorist attacks. In addition, the impact of future violent acts by those radicalized while in prison is significant, often garnering widespread media and public attention. Therefore, it is important for countries throughout the world to be vigilant regarding this issue and to evaluate continuously their prison policies, procedures, and practices to make sure that they are implementing effective management practices in order to identify, prevent, and mitigate radicalization within their custodial facilities. Furthermore, it is vital that prisons are part of a nation’s overall strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism.
A number of documents consider prisoner radicalization through the prism of rehabilitation and reintegration of radical offenders. Documents such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s (GCTF) Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders (Rome Memorandum) and the forthcoming Council of Europe Draft Guidelines for Prison and Probation Services Regarding Radicalisation and Violent Extremism address the important question of de-radicalization of such offenders.
The following recommendations therefore do not focus specifically on the issue of de-radicalization of terrorist offenders in the prison settings. Instead, the focus of the recommendations below are on the related, but distinct, issue of prison and prisoner management as it relates to preventing and addressing the violent extremist radicalization of prisoners (and even prison staff).
In addition, it is important to note that there is already substantial professional experiences and expertise, as well as many documents and handbooks regarding overall prison standards and operations, including the newly adopted and updated United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (now known as the Mandela Rules).2 The Mandela Rules provide a good framework for countries to utilize in reviewing the operations of their prisons. A core underlying principle found in these rules is the idea that all prison-based interventions and policies must respect international norms, treaties, and conventions regarding good governance, human rights and due process. This principle is vitally important to the discussion of countering radicalization to violence since it is crucial that prisons operate in a transparent and accountable manner respecting the rule of law. It is also critical that any effort to counter violent extremist radicalization in prisons incorporate these long developed general good prison management practices, particularly where such practices have undergone rigorous evidence-based evaluation to ensure that they are not simply good ideas, but also that they are achievable and effective practices.
In order to meet an identified need of showcasing how sound prison management policies and actions can assist in preventing and countering violent extremist radicalization in prisons, the following recommendations were developed with insights and feedback gained during two expert-level meetings with representatives from diverse backgrounds. An initial expert meeting was held in Washington, D.C. in May 2015 and a second meeting was held in Valletta, Malta in September 2015. Experts included prison wardens and administrators, representatives of international organizations, policy makers and program managers working on correctional reform programs. The discussion focused on what are some of the universally accepted good practices and standards that would help in countering prisoner radicalization.
A key point that emerged from these expert meetings was that a wellfunctioning prison system will reduce the risk of vulnerability to radicalization and make it easier to identify violent extremist radicalization, and provides a better foundation to respond to it.3 In the event that prison radicalization does occur, then, prison personnel are more likely to have the tools, information and resources necessary in order to identify the problem and develop an appropriate response. The recommendations contained in this document seek to address these broad issues and are directed at both prison practitioners and policy makers. Moreover, they are a starting point for discussions and training programs on prison management and practices. How countries seek to implement these recommendations will be varied and will depend on a number of factors such as but not limited to legal framework, available human and financial resources, size of prison population, culture, and specific characteristics of the criminal justice system. These recommendations may also serve as valuable benchmarks in international technical assistance programs as well as domestic training efforts.
Another common theme that the experts emphasized is the need to focus on sound correctional practices such as communication, accountability, vigilance and effective supervisor in “actively managing” facilities and its population and not simply “guarding” the prisoners. As one expert observed, corrections is foremost about relationships between people: this must be the underlying presumption of anything and everything that happens within a correctional facility. The principle of dynamic security, which requires having prison staff actively and frequently observing and interacting with prisoners to better understand the prison population and assess the specific risks that they represent,4 was highlighted as a fundamental practice in successfully managing a correctional facility.
1. As noted in Recommendation One below, this document’s recommendations may be relevant not only for facilities housing inmates who have already been convicted and sentenced for criminal conduct, but also for any facility or similar institution where individuals are detained such as pre-trial detention or military facilities. For purposes of this document, the term “prison” and “prisoners” includes this broader category of detained individuals.
2. Other UN standards are outlined in the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules).
3. This is a common attribute in de-radicalization programs as well. As Good Practice Two of the Rome Memorandum recognizes, de-radicalization efforts have the “best chance of succeeding when they are nested in a safe, secure, adequately resourced, and well operated custodial setting.”
4. United Nations Department of Field Support (DFS) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) Prison Incident Management Handbook, (2013), http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/publications/cljas/handbook_pim.pdf, see also Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Detention and Reintegration Working Group Workshop Summary on Capacity Building and Training for the Appropriate Management of Violent Extremist Offenders which defines dynamic security concerns the fair but strict treatment of inmates by prison officers, aimed at establishing good relationships to secure a safe, cooperative prison environment. This is based on mutual respect and trust, and does not mean one is too lenient or soft on prisoners. www.thegctf.org.
Where possible, ensure that pre-trial detainees and individuals detained in facilities other than general prisons also benefit from efforts to address and counter radicalization.
In many countries, individuals suspected of terrorism-related offences may spend many years in detention awaiting trial, while in other countries individuals may spend substantial time in military or immigration detention facilities. Pre-trial populations are more transient and less stable than inmate populations in traditional prison facilities. Furthermore, due to legal or policy restraints, pre-trial populations in certain countries are not always able to avail themselves of the same prison services and programs as sentenced prisoners. In addition, detained individuals are at their most vulnerable in the period immediately following their arrest, and therefore their susceptibility to the efforts of terrorist recruiters may be higher during this pre-trial period. Detention facilities other than general prisons may be operated by officials with less experience with good prison management techniques, such as risk assessment and detainee screening, and prison staff may be more temporary and less professionally trained. Therefore, it is important that the recommendations listed below and other good prison management practices are also considered for different types of detainees and of facilities where detainees are housed.
Maintain a safe and humane environment where violent extremist radicalization can be identified early-on and terrorist recruiters have less opportunity to target vulnerable individuals.
Prison officials should take appropriate steps to ensure that their facilities operate in a manner that keeps inmates, staff and the community safe and secure. All inmate vulnerabilities provide potential opportunities for recruitment and radicalization since violent extremist ideologues will have the time, space and opportunity to target individuals who may be susceptible to radicalization. Moreover, if an institution is not safe, then inmates may create alliances with violent extremist groups for their own survival. An institution can diminish the appeal of these violent extremist groups by ensuring that they do not provide protection and other services that the correctional facility itself should offer. As a general rule, prison management should apply the least restrictive measures necessary to control inmate behavior. Different prisons often present different levels of security concerns, which should be considered in establishing this environment.
A key issue with regard to humane and safe operations is the number of individuals in a facility. Crowding also strains facilities’ infrastructure sometimes to the breaking point. Overcrowded institutions weaken security and decrease oversight, which can provide terrorist recruiters the room to operate undetected. Overcrowding presents a very real danger in prisons, causing frustration and anger for prisoners whose access to basic necessities becomes limited and who face increased hours of idleness resulting from a limited availability of productive work and program opportunities. Inmate frustration and anger, in turn, are catalysts for violence which poses real risks to the lives of staff and offenders. An insufficient ratio of prison staff to inmates can create an environment where vulnerable inmates feel compelled to seek protection from predatory violence by joining alliances with prison gangs and violent extremist groups.
Programs, such as parole, early release based on good behavior, or sentencing alternatives to imprisonment may reduce the time ordinary inmates are in contact with (suspected) violent extremist inmates, and thereby reduce both overcrowding and recruiting opportunities. Alternatives to imprisonment can also potentially repair harm suffered by victims, provide benefits to the community through community service, better treat the drug/alcohol/gamblingaddicted or mentally ill, and rehabilitate offenders. Alternatives to imprisonment can also allow the prison administration to better focus their often limited prison resources on the higher risk prisoners in prison. If courts have options other than imprisonment, they can better tailor a cost-effective sentence that fits the offender and the crime and at the same time protecting the community.
Ensure that there are clear and transparent management policies in place that are fully implemented.
Prison management should seek to make sure that there are written policies and procedures in place that regulate all aspects of prison operations. Moreover, prison leadership needs to ensure that these policies and procedures are properly and consistently implemented. This can be accomplished by ensuring that best practices and knowledge are clearly conveyed to front line staff and their supervisors. Increasing front line staff personal responsibility and trust in leadership can create buy-in and professional identity. Prison management should properly recognize and reward work by front line staff and supervisors.
Diversify staff and leadership, and ensure staff and leadership are attuned to different cultures as a way to help address prison radicalization.
A feeling of isolation and lack of belonging can contribute to the conditions that allow violent extremist radicalization to occur. Prison leadership should seek to promote diversity within its leadership ranks as well as throughout the various levels of staffing by recruiting a diverse workforce that is representative of the different racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups in the community and comprising the facility’s inmate population. Officials should also cultivate an organizational culture of tolerance and respect for diversity through training and example.
Commit to developing professional staff, with a particular focus on the elements that will help officials identify and address violent extremist radicalization in prisons.
It is important to have prison staffs comprised of professional and approachable individuals. By cultivating and supporting a diverse and well-trained cadre of officers, prison leadership can assist in developing an atmosphere whereby inmates may feel more comfortable speaking to staff regarding developments within the prison. This is an important element for overall prison operations because inmates may be forthcoming with providing information about events and individuals of (future) concern. In addition, a well-trained and professional staff may help counter any negative feelings that inmates may have towards officers and the authorities in general.
While the specific types of trainings are highly dependent on the particulars within a country, it is useful to ensure that staff has initial and continuing education on subjects such as security procedures, professional ethics, incident response, appropriate contact and communication with and treatment of inmates, prison rules and regulations, interpersonal communications and gathering of intelligence. Introductory-level modules such as ‘managing violent extremists in prison’ or ‘identifying radicalisation within prison’ can be delivered to new officers as part of their primary training. In addition, it is important to offer courses that educate and sensitize staff to linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Also, staff should have training on terrorism, signs of radicalization to violence, and how best to identify these signs. It is useful to look for ways and opportunities to cross-train with other law enforcement agencies in order to share operational information and good practices. Overall, training is a key component of a well-managed prison system and is crucial to identifying and tackling prison radicalization and other threats to the safety, security and orderly operation of prisons. Officials should seek to provide informative and updated training to staff on a continual basis.
Finally, it is critical that staff training programs are designed based on evidence and research. A properly targeted use of resources takes into account that not all prison officials will interact with inmates, particularly suspected terrorist offenders. Such programs must also be evidence based. Therefore, curricula should be developed based on state-of-the-art research findings and tested good practices, and the programs themselves must include robust monitoring and evaluation tools.
Consider appropriate factors when determining whether to segregate or disperse inmates with special attention given to terrorist ideologues and leaders and those susceptible to their violent extremist messages.
Correctional practitioners need to determine the best approach to handling certain types of offenders, including violent extremists, based on specific factors within the country. There is no universal approach to confinement, co-location, or dispersal of inmates, so officials need to take into consideration factors such as:
- Size of population that would be segregated or dispersed
- Prison infrastructure
- Capacity, size and skills level of staff
- Financial resources
- Legal framework and authorities
- Cultural, political and social context
- The threat that an individual presents for further radicalization
Violent extremist ideologues and leaders, for example, could be more likely to radicalize others than mere followers and foot soldiers, while the latter may be more incited and ready to use violence. It is essential that whichever strategy is adopted that it remains dynamic and responsive to the behavior of the individual offender.
Determine and tailor risk assessments in order to ascertain risks of prison inmates’ susceptibility to terrorist ideology.
A violent extremist risk assessment protocol has the dual utility of determining the most effective and appropriate intervention and reintegration strategies for the offender convicted for terrorism offences as well as better informing the security and management decision making processes within the prison and the community. It should be an integral part of the intake and classification processes.
In developing objective risk assessment tools and protocols, it is vitally important that officials identify and clearly define the types of risks they seek to assess. For example, prison staff should determine if they want to evaluate the inmate on the risk s/he will pose within the prison or if they seek to review the risk s/he poses to the outside community, or both. They should likewise assess what are the likely risks to the inmates, including the potential for radicalization. In all cases, these tools should be evidence-based and culturally appropriate, rather than based on personal biases or speculative considerations.
In addition to articulating the specific risk(s) being assessed, officials should develop screening tools that include risk indicators that are tailored to specific prison populations, including juveniles and female inmates. There is no one size fits all approach to determining risks.
There is no hundred percent risk predictability. Therefore, prison leadership should be prepared to communicate with the media and the public opinion to ensure public understanding and support for the decisions reached by the prison service.
Implement sound and transparent intake screening and classification procedures continuously to identify those susceptible to violent extremist ideology.
The classification system should start at initial intake and be dynamically applied throughout the entire time that an individual is incarcerated and continue through post-release control in order to monitor behavioral changes. As noted in the Rome Memorandum, it is important to get as much information about an inmate’s background, criminal history, mental health, and personality traits in order to make sound classification decisions. Some of this information should be gathered from the investigating authority that developed the underlying charges against the prisoners or other relevant agencies, as well as informed by internal intelligence. Typically, classification identifies the appropriate level of custody for the inmate, determines appropriate housing, and decides the inmate’s eligibility to participate in various available programs. Prison officials must flexibly adapt such classifications between different types of facilities, but such systems should be transparent and consistent with the rule of law, and be objective and methodologically valid, based on established laws, regulations and procedures.
It is also important to develop an effective database to record information and account for all prisoners in the prison system, from the time the prisoner first enters the prison facility, until the expiration of their sentence in the community. A database that includes an alert or identification of those convicted under terrorism legislation allows prison officers to instantly identify a prisoner’s status,. Knowing as much as possible about the prisoner's co-offenders, modus operandi, personal background, criminal history, significant contacts, and ideology allows for more accurate registration and appropriate placement and classification processes. Access to quality information from the law enforcement agencies and courts familiar with the cases is important, as it promotes better informed registration and classification processes by the prison administration.
Adequate screening and classification is not the end of the process. As the Rome Memorandum points out, “re-administering5 risk assessment protocols at regular intervals is important to inform risk assessment, management decisions, and targeted interventions. The results of these periodic assessments may also assist prison officials in estimating the impact of any intervention strategies and detecting changes in prisoner attitudes.6 By properly and continuously assessing and classifying, and if necessary re-classifying inmates, officials will have up-to-date information and potential warning signs regarding individuals who may be susceptible to radicalization to violence while in prison. The results of the screening can then be integrated into a dynamic and individualized management needs assessment and intervention plan for each inmate. The role of particular inmate groups within the facility should be monitored and analyzed. Furthermore, a formal process to review an inmate’s classification should be established to take into account adjustment to incarceration, behavior, participation in programs and changes in the inmate’s circumstances. These reviews should take place on a pre-determined schedule and any time there is a change in the inmate’s legal status.
5. See also Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Detention and Reintegration Working Group Workshop Summary on Capacity Building and Training for the Appropriate Management of Violent Extremist Offenders reconfirming the importance of structurally re-administered risk assessments as well as sufficient investments in staff training to ensure that prison staff members are capable of identifying and managing violent extremist offenders and radicalization in prison. www.thegctf.org.
6. Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders, www.thegctf.org
Institute clear procedures that hold inmates accountable for their actions in order to create an environment that does not allow radicalization to violence to fester.
A key to sound prison management and an important factor in addressing violent extremist radicalization in prisons is to hold inmates accountable for their actions. Officials should seek to develop and establish a disciplinary process that treats all inmates equitably. Inmates should be provided with information about the disciplinary code and complaint procedures upon admissions. The Mandela rules regulate the scope of permissible disciplinary sanctions. Judicial authorities should be involved when misconduct rises to a criminal level. Disciplinary matters should consistently follow appropriate procedural safeguards such as notice of the offense and an opportunity to be heard. Inmate grievance procedures should be accessible for all inmates. Finally, punishment, where appropriate, should be proximal to prisoner misconduct.
Develop and enforce clear rules and procedures to ensure prison management and staff accountability as a way to reduce opportunities for prison radicalization.
Management and staff accountability is critically important in countering prison radicalization because it lends credibility to the system and helps fostering an environment where inmates know that staff and management are held to specific standards. Staff misconduct undermines that confidence. Rules and regulations, including those that prohibit corruption, abuse, and violence should be clearly outlined and discussed in a code of conduct. Codes of conduct specify expected standards of ethics and behavior for prison officers and other prison staff, fostering conditions conducive to earning public confidence and respect. Prison management should enforce the rules and regulations promptly, fairly, transparently, consistently and impartially.
Take preventative measures to combat corruption to reduce opportunities for radicalization and ensure that where corruption exists, its perpetrators are appropriately punished.
Corruption is a corrosive practice that compromises the effectiveness of prison operations and compromises security. A facility with corrupt officials will suffer from poor management and failure to adhere to best correctional practices and international standards and norms. This can allow for radicalization to violence to fester because individuals with resources will have the opportunity to spread their extremist messages and recruit followers. Prison officials should be accountable for ensuring that their correctional facilities have internal standards and methods in place and implemented to root out corruption. Some examples of methods include vetting staff at hire and throughout employment, conducting unannounced employee searches, changing shifts regularly, developing an internal affairs unit to investigate reports of corruption, and making public examples of corrupt officers. Adequate compensation is one factor, but not the only one, in reducing corruption.
Utilize all legal sources for gathering information on what is happening within prisons as a way to identify potential violent extremist radicalization in prison.
Intelligence is a critical factor in prison management. The effective management of offenders requires the collaborative sharing of intelligence throughout their incarceration (pre-trial, post conviction and pre-release). The ability to collect, evaluate, collate, analyse and disseminate information related to offenders is critical to not only the safe operation of prison facilities but also the prevention of radicalisation to violent extremism. Prison intelligence systems aid in security, assist in intake, assessment and classification, and inform interventions and rehabilitative measures. Accurate intelligence information also assists prison management to make sound strategic decisions about prisoner placement and allocation of personnel resources and funding in the prisons to address security issues including the prevention of radicalisation of members of the larger prison population.
As with most elements of prison operations, how officials gather and utilize intelligence depends on a number of factors including their legal frameworks, cultures, and resources. Prison systems should have a central informationgathering unit, which provides prison management with accurate and timely information about radicalisation activities and improve prison security protocols. This is best accomplished by observing, documenting, and addressing the behavior of offenders. Regular written reports on each inmate is one approach to support consistent and individualized attention.
It is essential to make sure that intelligence is being utilized, analyzed, and shared since intelligence and operations need to be fully integrated. One way to make sure that intelligence is properly used is to maintain an intelligence database. Officials should consider how to engage relevant parties within the prison environment in gathering and reporting information. An essential aspect to getting information from inmates is to have an approachable staff and known reporting mechanisms, including protecting prison informants.
Inter-agency, inter-governmental and international sharing of information is central. Prison authorities need to work closely with law enforcement, prosecutors and other security agencies tasked with tackling extremism in order to avoid working at cross purposes. Correctional officers should be aware of how information will be utilized. Officials should consider appropriate protocols and procedures to put in place in order to share information internally and externally. In order to facilitate the sharing of information between all public safety sectors such protocols should be reciprocal. If outside agencies are involved in collecting intelligence from within the prison system, such efforts should be coordinated with prison officials to avoid disruption to the proper management of the prison or ongoing interventions. Correctional facilities are valuable sources of intelligence relevant to criminal justice and national security so there needs to be both in and out flows of intelligence information.
Monitor all forms of communication in order to detect any violent extremist radicalization, activities or plans.
Correctional officials should seek to monitor and control communications, including telephone calls, mail (electronic and postal) and in-person, to the extent permitted by law. This may help in the identification of violent extremist radicalization, activities or plans. Prison officials should ensure that inmates do not have unmonitored access to communication devices, including cell phones and computers. Communications between inmates should also be monitored, to the extent permitted by law. It is important that officials determine the appropriate controls on communication that are commensurate with the classification of the inmate. Moreover, the controls should be objective and transparent. The overarching point that officials need to consider when determining how to monitor communications is to achieve the appropriate balance between security concerns and an inmate’s need to maintain ties to family and the community as well as responsibly address potential issues surrounding attorney confidentiality.
Support the role that religious and other services can provide to prisons as means to countering radicalization.
Officials should provide inmates with the opportunity to participate in practices of their religious faith. Providing pastoral care for inmates provides an alternative to terrorist ideology that may be spread under the guise of religion as well as reduces the potential for violent extremist to subvert legitimate faith activities.
There are a number of ways that officials can support religious programs. For instance, religious officials may be hired directly by the prison or prison officials when permitted by law. Alternatively, respected religious leaders from the local community may be allowed to hold services within the prison. A religious expert who comes from the same tribal, ethnic and linguistic group as the prison population is often more effective than one who comes from a different section of the community. All groups and individuals must be subjected to the same screening and review process.
In addition, correctional officials should ensure that any monitoring of religious services is respectful of the faiths practices. Changes in religious behavior such as an inmate who suddenly stops participating in general religious services may be an indicator of radicalization. It is crucial that officials focus on behavior and not beliefs. Ethics should be considered at all times when monitoring for radicalization and other kinds of illicit behavior. It is important not to single out any one particular group based simply on religious or other beliefs. The goal of a well-run prison system is to promote internal and public safety by reducing violence and other criminal activity.
Other individuals who can provide useful positive messages to inmates are psychologists, social workers, family members, the business community and civil society partners. Many of these stakeholders can help inmates as they adjust to life in prison, assist them to address some of the underlying issues that contributed to their incarceration, and help prepare them for a productive life back in society. Positive outside influences may provide inmates with a structure to work with and a goal to work towards. Under the right circumstances, former, radicalized individuals may be helpful in providing alternative approaches. These approaches are all potential tools to building more resilient prison inmates. When prison services have limited resources, community based groups can help meeting needs that would otherwise go unmet.
Offer programs and services offered by a range of stakeholders to inmates that assist in their successful return and reintegration into the community.
Re-entry is a critical component of public safety. Correctional facilities should develop an environment which promotes respect, self-improvement and offer a broad spectrum of evidence-based programs and services that promote respect, and self-improvement and that will help inmates re-enter society. The prospect of successfully returning to society may mitigate alienation and could reduce the impetus to join prison gangs or violent extremist groups. It is imperative for officials to define the focus, determine the anticipated outcomes of the programs based on the needs of the offender, and develop measures for success. In developing reintegration programming, prison practitioners should look for ways to provide mental health, educational, and vocational support. Particularly as offenders near the final portion of their term of imprisonment, it is important to provide them opportunities to gradually re-adapt to their community environment. Coordination with the local community before, during, and after the release will support the success of these efforts.
Engage in robust efforts to address potential prison recruiters.
As set forth in the Rome Memorandum and other good practices, prison management should seek to rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorist offenders. This policy and related intervention programs serves not only the purpose of reducing the chances that these offenders will return to their violent behavior, but will also reduce the chances and opportunities for these violent offenders to engage in recruitment activities of other inmates while incarcerated.