When Mr. Jörg Lorenz left school, he thought he would become a craftsman – but changed his mind when a friend of his drew his attention to the police as a profession. Today he is a leading practitioner in human rights-compliant interviewing techniques and an expert in gender-based violence, security sector reform and more.
“My decision to join the police was driven by my sense of justice and humanity and wish to do something to enhance those values through my work,” Lorenz says.
In July he travelled from his home country of Germany to Tajikistan as a UNODC international expert to conduct training in effective and human rights-compliant interviewing for prison officers who work with returning foreign terrorist fighters, as well as men and women vulnerable to radicalization.
Over the course of his career, Lorenz has come to specialize in a few key areas, two of which are motivational interviewing and human rights-compliant interviewing techniques. “I have always considered the interaction of people to be a great challenge.How easy it is for misunderstandings to arise,” Lorenz says. “Be it when two people meet for the first time, or in the area of interviews or interrogations, the biggest challenge is getting people to open up and freely share information.Essentially, it is always about the right communication.”
This is all the more vital in the context of conversations between prison officers and prisoners, where unequal power dynamics and highly fraught topics make misunderstandings more likely – and the consequences of these more severe. This is where thorough training in interview techniques comes in.
“Motivational interviewing offers a framework to engage and support individuals who may be facing challenges, such as substance abuse issues, ideologically-based violence, criminal behavior patterns, or difficulties with reintegration into society after incarceration. Professionals can effectively support prisoners to explore their motivations, make informed choices, and work towards positive and sustainable changes in their lives.”
In the recent training in Tajikistan, Lorenz incorporated learning about motivational interviewing into wider training in human rights-compliant interviewing techniques. Combining the two, Lorenz says, promotes positive outcomes while upholding ethical standards and human rights principles.
The recent training in Tajikistan aimed to assist the prison service to enhance its efforts and abilities to manage terrorist and returning foreign terrorist fighter prisoners – both serious threats to the security of the country and the region. The number of prisoners convicted of such offences in Tajikistan and other countries of the Central Asian region is growing.
These prisoners do not represent a homogeneous group of people. The motivations, circumstances and reasons why individuals commit violent extremist offences are varied and often complex. Some people become engaged in such activity because of conventional criminal motives such as financial gains, while others get involved to fulfil more intrinsic or existential needs and desires such as for status, belonging or meaning.
It is critical to safety and security, therefore, to apply human rights-compliant interviewing techniques to assess prisoners’ personal and contextual circumstances contributing to their violent extremist views, and that are likely to contribute to such offending in the future. The failure to do so could be exploited by violent extremist groups, who may encourage future reoffending as well as activities while in prison such as the recruitment of other prisoners or preparation for terrorist attacks outside prison.
Sixty-four prison officers were introduced to practical and theoretical examples for engaging in dialogue with prisoners, including age- and gender-responsive approaches, with a view to drawing out underlying motivations and encouraging the desire for change. The training also included interview techniques for conducting risk and needs assessments. These assessments allow the development of individual sentence and rehabilitation plans for prisoners, improving the likelihood of positive outcomes. The training was conducted with involvement of experts from Germany, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
“I believe, based on the experiences from my previous training sessions, that the desire and will to improve the justice system in Tajikistan is incredibly strong,” Lorenz says. “There is a great desire for further cooperation and development in relation to probation and rehabilitation.
“To me the work of UNODC in Tajikistan is crucial – especially the treatment and management of violent extremist prisoners and returning foreign terrorist fighters and the prevention of radicalization to violence in prisons. UNODC's work contributes to a safer and more prosperous future for Tajikistan and the wider region.”
But Lorenz is clear that the benefit derived from cooperation is not just to Tajikistan. “So far, I have had the pleasure of being in Tajikistan twice and getting to know several groups of prison officers. We are all basically pursuing the same goals, but with different approaches and methods.Different legislations also play a role that should not be underestimated, as do different cultural backgrounds.I believe that in exchange, both sides can always learn from each other and develop the best practice methods for themselves.”
The benefits of improving prison and penal reform systems through capacity building such as this training are hard to overstate. “I am personally of the opinion that [this work] can and will lead to a more humane and effective prison system in Tajikistan, bolster safety and security, and improve the lives of prisoners by promoting effective rehabilitation. And it will have a positive impact on wider society by reducing violent crime and creating a safer community.”
This training was conducted as part of the Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters Detention programme, implemented by UNODC and funded by the Bureau of Counterterrorism of the U.S. Department of State, in co-operation with the project ‘Strengthening Social Cohesion through Participation and Advancement of Rights among Young Women and Men Vulnerable to Radicalism’ programme, funded by the Government of Canada and implemented in partnership with UNDP.