Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders: Good Practices & Lessons Learned
On 6-9 December 2011, The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) – The Hague hosted the international Conference on Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders: Good Practices & Lessons Learned. This was the second event organised by UNICRI/ICCT on the rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremists and the related issue of prison radicalisation. The initial event was convened by UNICRI in Lucca, Italy in May, 2011. Approximately 20 countries, a number of multilateral organisations and 30 independent experts participated in the Hague meeting.
At the outset, this initiative was focused on bringing together the relevant policymakers, practitioners and experts to share information and best practices. There was a great interest among the participants in increasing dialogue; however participants from a number of governments were eager to receive assistance in improving existing rehabilitation-disengagement programs for violent extremists or creating new ones. Based on this response, a decision was made to expand this project to include a capacity building component.
The Hague conference was a key step in transitioning from dialogue to capacity building. The primary purpose of this meeting was to identify good practices that could be used to shape the capacity building assistance that UNICRI will provide beginning in early 2012. The session considered a good practices document prepared by ICCT, which incorporated the input of experts.
Divided into two sessions – a Roundtable Expert Meeting on December 6-7 and a two-day broader session consisting of lectures and workshops on December 8-9 – this four day conference addressed several issues including: how various professionals such as psychologists, social workers and religious scholars should be most effectively integrated into a rehabilitation programme; how law enforcement and intelligence agents can collect information from detainees without undermining the rehabilitation process; the importance of a robust aftercare programme; how to best involve other key stakeholders in this process, such as victims and former extremists; what good correctional practices should encompass; how to prevent inmates from continuing terrorist activities while incarcerated; and steps countries can take to prevent radicalisation from taking hold in prison.
Based on the significant progress that was made in identifying good practices, ICCT has finalised the good practices document and formally submitted it to UNICRI. While both this document as well as the discussion in The Hague were far reaching and comprehensive, a few of the themes are worth highlighting. One of the most important points to emerge during the expert session was that a “one size fits all” approach will not be effective. Nevertheless, there is a series of good practices that should be considered. For example:
• Rehabilitation programmes have the best chance of succeeding when they are nested in a safe, secure and well operating custodial setting. As a result, good prison standards and practices must be the starting point for building an effective rehabilitation or counter-radicalisation programme.
• Improving the prison environment can also help prevent inmates from becoming radicalised while in custody.
• The key to success in deradicalisation/disengagement is building strong trust between the individuals working in rehabilitation programmes and the detainees. It is only once this type of bond is established that inmates will be receptive to the counter-messages that rehabilitation professionals are attempting to share.
Finally, the experts agreed that rehabilitation and reintegration is a complex field and it is important to have a cross-disciplinary team involved – both in developing good practices and in any subsequent capacity building that UNICRI offers.