Filipino corrections agencies gather to develop strategies for preventing violent extremism in prisons

Manila (Philippines), 14 June 2019
- Senior Filipino jail and prison officials, as well as representatives from parole and probation services, gathered for an intensive 5-day workshop organized by UNODC's Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific (ROSEAP) and the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI).

Correctional agencies in attendance, including the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), and the Parole and Probation Administration (PPA), highlighted that they face numerous challenges, such as the lack of appropriate assessment and placement mechanisms in the management of violent extremist offenders (VEOs). The workshop was organised in response to growing calls to address these challenges and to provide greater support to correctional officials as they seek to address the spread of violent extremism in an overcrowded prison system. The Philippines currently has the highest prison overcrowding rate in the world and many VEOs are incarcerated in these overcrowded correctional institutions, creating an enabling environment for the spread of violent extremism.

The workshop reviewed current responses of Filipino jail, prison, probation and parole systems to VEOs and facilitated discussions about how these responses could be more effective. Furthermore, the training aspect of the workshop strengthened participants' knowledge of each organization's role in the detection, prevention and management of violent extremism; provided participants with an introduction to the most relevant themes related to the management of VEOs and; increased participants' understanding of the role of parole and probation services, as well as reinforcing the importance of inter-agency coordination.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Takeshi Seto, Director of UNAFEI, emphasized that the management of high-risk VEOs is done in an effort to rehabilitate them and to facilitate their reintegration into society.

"In this regard, rehabilitative responses should be based on reliable empirical evidence and perspectives from both institutional corrections and community corrections should be reflected in an integrated manner to ensure continuity in the rehabilitative process." Mr. Seto told participants, before stressing the necessity of tailored interventions which are sensitive to local circumstances.

The importance of focusing on the basics was then detailed by Mr. Takeshi Matsumoto, the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer from UNODC.

"If we want to address the issue of management of VEOs properly, we should get back to the basics. The fight against terrorism doesn't justify infringements on human rights, and we need to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law obligations in our daily operations. Such basics are typically represented by international instruments, such as the Nelson Mandela Rules, and so we need to learn and understand what they say and develop our systems in line with them."

During the 5-day workshop, international speakers provided expertise on a variety of themes, such as assessment, classification and placement, treatment programmes and interventions, and inter-agency coordination. Participants used this as the basis for their group work and discussions, as they worked to develop concrete ways to translate what they had learned into practical steps that can be implemented in the Filipino correctional system. Participants expressed optimism that many of the strategies they were taught could be contextualized and applied in their day-to-day work and that they could meaningfully reduce the spread of violent extremism in Filipino prisons.

This was the first-ever joint workshop organized by the UNODC ROSEAP and UNAFEI in the Philippines, and, following the workshop's success, both organisations agreed to explore additional opportunities for cooperation between two organizations moving forward.