16 January 2017 - Many countries are currently facing a threat from violent extremism, and hardly a week goes by without an act of violent extremism taking place somewhere in the world. Attacks undertaken by violent extremist cause more than loss of life and economic damage; they can sow the seeds of division between communities, giving rise to increasingly reactionary and extremist views in other parts of society. As Member States increase their efforts to counter violent extremist groups, however, an associated challenge has gained importance and urgency: how to manage those violent extremists who end up in State custody.
It is in this context that UNODC's Justice Section recently launched a new Handbook on the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons. Of particular usefulness to prison staff and policy-makers worldwide, the manual constitutes the very first United Nations technical guidance tool to address radicalization to violence and violent extremism in prison settings.
Thirty-five practitioners from 25 Member States as well as 30 experts from the United Nations, other international organisations, research institutes and civil society organisations have contributed to the publication in the course of two Expert Group Meetings convened by the Justice Section of UNODC. The handbook provides practical guidance on the management of violent extremist prisoners; on preventing the progression to violent extremism in prisons; and on interventions aimed at disengaging violent extremist prisoners from violence and at facilitating their social reintegration upon release.
At the handbook's launch, the Ambassador of Germany to the United Nations (Vienna), Friedrich Daeuble, praised the handbook as "a major step forward in collecting and disseminating knowledge about the management of violent extremism in prisons". Additionally, participants recalled the relevance of good prison management according to the provisions of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) as an overarching framework equally applicable to violent extremist prisoners.
In this regard, UNODC Deputy Executive Director, Aldo Lale-Demoz, highlighted the need to closely embed any intervention targeting violent extremist prisoners in broader prison reform efforts. "Overcrowding, poor prison conditions and infrastructure, insufficient prison management capacity as well as corruption, for example, are all factors which will poison attempts to effectively prevent and counter violent extremism in prisons," he added.
Overall, the handbook promotes an approach aimed at strengthening key components of prison management, including in the fields of prison staff training, risk management and rehabilitation efforts. It also cautions against generalised assumptions regarding a very complex topic, as well as against "quick fix solutions" when it comes to the management of violent extremist prisoners.
Co-organized by UNODC and the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, which supported the development and productions of the handbook, the launch was attended by officials from some 45 Permanent Missions, and included presentations from senior practitioners from the Correctional Service of Canada and the Penitentiary Administration of Lebanon.
The handbook's launch concluded with a video screening providing first-hand testimony of UNODC's on-going work on addressing violent extremist prisoners in Eastern Africa, implemented as part of the Office's Maritime Crime Programme. Furthermore, to address the increasing number of technical assistance requests from Member States confronted with the issue of violent extremism in prisons, UNODC is enhancing its engagement in this field through its Global Programme on Addressing Prison Challenges.