Prison officials, UNODC gather to strengthen prison assessment systems in Timor-Leste

Dili (Timor-Leste), 16 July 2019
- Senior officials from the Timor-Leste Ministry of Justice (MOJ), prison directors, and guards from each of Timor-Leste's three prisons gathered for a 4-day workshop, "Management of Offenders to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE): Strengthening the Assessment System in Prisons", organized by UNODC's Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific and the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI).

"Being a prison officer is a difficult job, but a very important one," highlighted Dr. Manuel Cárceres da Costa, Timor-Leste's Minister of Justice, in his opening remarks. "If we're going to build a safer, more secure society, we need to ensure our prisons become somewhere prisoners change their behaviour and become law-abiding citizens through the interventions from our prison officers. This is why they are so important, they're leading our efforts to make sure our prisons provide a conducive environment for rehabilitation and social reintegration."

The workshop not only provided prison officers with training on effective prison management, including prison security; assessment and classification of prisoners including violent extremist prisoners; and treatment and intervention programmes in prisons, but it also encouraged them to review and strengthen their pre-existing prisoner assessment system and tools. Also, in a separate parallel session held on day 3 and 4, senior officials from the MOJ and prison directors discussed how to improve decision-making and policy development capacities in prison management, and PVE in prisons in particular, with international experts from Portugal and Japan.

The workshop was held as a result of Timor-Leste prison authorities reaching out to UNODC and UNAFEI for support developing their capacities and implementing strategies to manage their prisons and to prevent violent extremism inside their prisons in line with international standards.

Hosting a workshop to address the potential for violent extremism in Timorese prisons became a priority as Daesh (ISIS) and other terrorist groups, who have now been largely defeated in Syria and Iraq, have had their affiliate groups expand into Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Accordingly, governments across Southeast Asia, including the Government of Timor-Leste, are taking proactive steps to prevent and counter violent extremism before it becomes widespread.

To effectively manage violent extremist and other high-risk prisoners in prisons, prison officers must develop competencies in several domains, among which proper assessment and classification are crucial. In Timor-Leste, while some assessment tools are currently utilized in correctional facilities, there is a need for officers to adopt more sophisticated tools and to ensure these tools are based on empirical evidence, international standards, and local Timorese conditions.

"Prisons, when run effectively, can be an important place for rehabilitating violent extremist offenders, while also preventing the spread of extremist ideologies," emphasized UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer Takeshi Matsumoto. "Prison officers are perhaps the most important part in making this a reality. Well trained, passionate officers on the frontlines can help to reintegrate prisoners into society as law-abiding citizens and are essential to making prisons a space for rehabilitation, instead of one focused solely on punishment."

UNODC and UNAFEI will continue consulting with the Government of Timor-Leste over the coming months to discuss strategies for implementing the ideas put forward during the workshop.

Learn more about UNODC's work on prisons here.

Learn more about UNODC's terrorism prevention work here.