Lifecycle Initiative Toolkit

Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders

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Successful in-prison rehabilitation does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. It begins with clearly defined objectives and metrics for success and failure.

The growing emphasis on prison-based rehabilitation programs in governments’ efforts to counter violent extremism results from three factors: first, prisons may become ‘safe havens’ for terrorists carrying on their operations, including radicalizing new members; second, some imprisoned extremists will eventually be released and thus must be disengaged; third, prison settings can be a setting where positive change can occur, as violent extremists are cut off from their old networks and influences.

“The Rome Memorandum on Prison Rehabilitation…is the first international soft law compendium aimed at fostering and facilitating States’ efforts to counter violent extremism through de-radicalization in prisons.” - Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, 06/07/2012

Successful in-prison rehabilitation does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. It begins with clearly defined objectives and metrics for success and failure. Chief among these decisions are whether to aim for de-radicalization, which focused on changing views or ideas, or disengagement, which is geared towards changing behavior.

For programs to succeed, they should be nested in a safe, secure, well-run prison wherein human rights are upheld and new inmates are effectively and continuously assessed and classified. It must also be carefully considered whether to house them separately or collectively, after weighing the consequences of their communication–or the lack thereof. All relevant staff must be professionally trained, and cross-disciplinary experts should be closely coordinated with.

These include:

  • psychologists
  • Law enforcement
  • family
  • religious scholars
  • victims and/or their advocates
  • former violent extremists
  • prominent community members

During rehabilitation and reintegration, the specific assistance and support needed by inmates should be determined by assessments.  Types of potential assistance include cognitive skill training, basic education courses, counseling, and vocational and employment assistance. Rehabilitation programs in custodial and non-custodial settings may include incentives to reward progress and to motivate others to participate in the program.

“The Rome Memorandum … could well become for the rehabilitation of violen't extremist offenders what the UN Standard Minimum Rules have become for the promotion of humane conditions and good custodial principles and practice."  -Dr. Peter Bennett, Director, International Centre for Prison Studies, December 2013

Upon release, to reduce opportunities for recidivism and to ensure that that the individual is equipped to re-enter society, former inmates ought to receive assistance tailored to their needs and situation.  For example, individuals who are on parole will be subjected will formal supervision and typically offered additional support services.  Individuals who have completed their sentence may need to participate in aftercare programs and receive protective measures. Taking guidance from good practices makes it feasible to transfer and implement lessons learned across contexts and ensure success for those who come away reformed.


Notable Quotations from the Rome Memorandum

"While a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work, knowing what other States have tried, whether at the national or local level, may be useful. Learning more about what has succeeded and what has failed and why can offer valuable lessons for governments as they work to build or improve their own programs.”

“Understanding why individual inmates have gone down the path of violent extremism is critical to the design of their rehabilitation program and should be an integral part of the intake and assessment process. Accurate, ongoing assessment of individual needs and risks is an important element in rehabilitation.”

“In the case of allegedly religiously inspired terrorism, a number of the incarcerated violent extremists who cite religion for their actions have a shallow knowledge of the religion by which they were supposedly inspired. Properly trained scholars could be encouraged to engage in extensive dialogue with the inmates and potentially raise doubts about their views on the acceptability of the use of violence.”

“Hearing first-hand how their violence tragically impacts ordinary citizens might evoke a mind-shift in violent extremist inmates. Moreover, dialogue between inmates and victims and their advocates may reduce psychological tension and may contribute to the inmate’s successful rehabilitation.”

“The challenge lies in moving beyond merely recognizing and acknowledging differences and similarities, and to identify and select the key principles that may be transferrable and implementable across contexts – and which can be useful for the development and implementation of future rehabilitation initiatives.”

Sector: Government Institutions, International Agencies, Private Sector, Judicial, Law Enforcement,
Theme: Rehab and Reintegration,
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