Preventing violent extremism in prisons programme: Achievements Report 2018-2022

30 January 2023 : UNODC has published the final achievements report for the 'Supporting the management of violent extremist prisoners and the prevention of radicalisation to violence in prison' programme.

Across the world, there are around 12 million people behind bars – a highly concerning number that continues to grow. The main purposes of imprisonment are to protect society from crime and to prevent reoffending. Yet prison systems around the globe face fundamental challenges that undermine their ability to fulfil those purposes: systemic neglect and limited resources, a lack of political will, and barriers to accessing knowledge and good practices. When it comes to violent extremist prisoners, the need for change is urgent.

Terrorism is a significant threat to public safety in communities worldwide. Prisons play a vital role in addressing that threat – not only in ensuring safe and secure custody but also preparing those convicted of terrorism and violent extremism-related offences for their safe re-entry into society, dissuading them from violence and allowing them to become full, law-abiding members of their communities. Prisons are also places of vulnerability, where prisoners with no history of terrorism or violent extremism may be radicalized to violence. Prison authorities must actively manage this risk to avoid further harm.

Between 2018 and 2022 the European Union and United Nations joint initiative supported Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Uganda to build the capacity of prisons to address the challenges posed by terrorism and violent extremism; to bring together and share expertise and good practices; and to ensure that essential resources, processes and relationships are in place to allow prison services to move from strength to strength.

While the initiative has targeted the issue of terrorism and violent extremism, interventions also encompass broader prison reform. This is not only desirable but essential, as effective and humane prison management provides the foundation for all other interventions. With this in mind, the initiative has taken place in full compliance with international human rights standards, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Nelson Mandela Rules), with due attention given to age and gender considerations.

The problem of violent extremism does not stop at a country’s borders and cannot be tackled by nations working alone. This initiative has involved the coordinated effort of Member States, the European Union and the United Nations System, demonstrating the significant value of this approach. Together progress has been made towards Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions; and the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2396 (2017), which acknowledged that though prisons can become potential incubators for terrorist recruitment, they can also serve to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners.