"Many times when someone is a violent extremist prisoner we tend to think that that is the end and he has no rights. But we need to realize that he still has rights."
Brenda Sana, Assistant Commissioner of Prisons and Commandant of the Prisons Academy and Training School, Penitentiary System of Uganda
The ultimate purpose of imprisonment is to protect society from crime and to prevent reoffending by supporting rehabilitation and preparing prisoners for their social reintegration upon release. Yet prison systems around the globe face fundamental challenges that undermine their ability to fulfil this purpose: overcrowding, poor prison conditions, severe neglect of prison services, a lack of investment in prison reform programming, and barriers to accessing knowledge and best practices. When it comes to the management of violent extremist prisoners, the need for change is urgent.
In September 2022, officials from the prison systems of Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Uganda came together in Astana for a week-long exchange visit – the culmination of a five-year programme focused on managing violent extremist prisoners and preventing radicalization to violence in prisons. The programme, a global European Union and United Nations System joint initiative was implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) and the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (UNCTED) and co-funded by the European Union, the Netherlands and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).
“We have seen significant progress across the programme’s four thematic areas: ensuring safe, secure and humane custody of violent extremist prisoners; assessing risks and needs of violent extremist prisoners to individualize sentence planning; promoting prison-based rehabilitation; and post-release support and supervision,” said Kestutis Jankauskas, Ambassador of the European Union to Kazakhstan, speaking during the visit. “More than that, we have seen the positive impact of collaboration when it comes to preventing violent extremism in prisons.”
The first stop on the exchange visit was Kostanay Police Academy. "Over the past three years, Kostanay Academy participated in this global initiative, strengthening the capacity of prison and probation officers," said Nurken Mukhametkaliyev, Head of Kostanay Academy, Ministry of Interior of Kazakhstan.
Delegates from the three beneficiary countries, donors and implementing partners met with the Academy's officials and learned about Kazakhstan's new Training Center dedicated to enhancing prison officers’ capacity to effectively manage violent extremist prisoners and prevent radicalization to violence in prisons, launched as part of the joint initiative. A new module on the management of violent extremist prisoners has now been included in the training of all prison officers, with additional specialized training courses for prison psychologists, inspectors working with violent extremist prisoners and prison security officers.
Wilson Francis Magomu, Commissioner of Safety and Security Operations, Uganda Prisons Service, Penitentiary System of Uganda, commented on the value of the visit: "We hope to replicate what we have seen in the Training Academy – the way they have arranged their programmes, the role of the probational officers, and the role of research in their training institution."
All three countries have seen their training capacity and quality increase over the course of the programme. Increased confidence among staff to manage violent extremist prisoners and prevent radicalization to violence improves the safety and security of the countries' prisons – with a knock-on effect on the safety of the wider communities surrounding them.
Delegates travelled to the centre of Kazkahstan, where they visited a prison in Karaganda and were able to share experiences around prison management of violent extremist prisoners and the prevention of radicalization to violence. One area of focus for all three countries has been in prisoner classification, building prisons' ability to identify and respond to individual prisoners' risk and needs, increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes. In Uganda, for example, the programme supported the Uganda Prison Service in developing a prisoner classification framework and supporting tools, piloting these in six prisons, including a female prison.
"It is good for Tunisia, Kazakhstan and Uganda to come together to see if we are moving at the same pace, to share notes, and to make connections, so that going forward it's easier for us to call on one another," Brenda Sana commented. "This coming together was very important for solidifying the initiative."
In the final conference in Astana, delegates were able to share their experience across the programme as a whole, making commitments to continue work to manage violent extremist prisoners and prevent radicalization to violence.
"Terrorism equally harms all countries; it is dangerous for all. In this way, our meeting reflects a new reality," Ben Hassen Abdeljalil, Director of the Central Secretariat, General Committee of Prisons and Rehabilitation of Tunisia, said. "I would like to thank the implementing partners and donors for the opportunity to meet with other countries here in Kazakhstan and to gain new experience in countering violent extremism and terrorism for the benefit of all countries to live in peace and tranquility.”
This was echoed by Dr Jehangir Khan, Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre of UNOCT. “This project not only has strategic value for Kazakhstan, Tunisia, and Uganda, but also for other countries facing similar challenges in managing and rehabilitating violent extremist prisoners.”
Huge thanks go to the programme’s donors, without whom this work would not have been possible: the European Union, the Netherlands and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism.