UNODC strengthens the efforts of the penitentiary to prevent radicalization in prison

This assitance was made possible thanks to the support from Denmark and the Netherlands

Prisons continue to be places of vulnerability that harbour identity seekers, protection seekers and rebels in greater concentrations than any other environment. Associated risks, such as criminal contamination in prisons, have long been recognized. More recently, there has been an increasing concern that if left unchecked, prisons may also serve as incubators for terrorism by constituting environments where violent extremism can thrive.

UNODC has the mandate to assist countries in building and reforming their prison systems, and in implementing non-custodial sanctions and measures in compliance with human rights principles and UN standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice. In 2018, the Nelson Mandela International Day on 18 July is the occasion to highlight how UNODC is supporting Sahelian countries in their efforts to prevent radicalization in prison.

Indeed, in the Sahel, security and safety in prison are fundamental concerns in view of the increase in the number of persons arrested and detained under charges related to terrorism or allegedly belonging to a terrorist organization.


In June 2016, UNODC undertook a security audit in selected prisons in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The assessment took place in 7 prisons: 2 prisons Burkina Faso, 2 in Mali and 3 Niger. The prisons were selected because they were holding large numbers of Violent Extremist Prisoners and were critically overcrowded.

During the official presentation of UNODC findings and recommendations on the prison security audit in Burkina Faso in December 2016, the prison administration expressed an urgent need for training of senior officials on management, human and financial resources, leadership, etc. Further to this request, UNODC organized several sub-regional training sessions regarding prison management and leadership based on the Handbook for Prison Leaders and trained more than 100 prison staff.

Moreover, UNODC organized a regional workshop to develop a risk assessment tool composed of several questionnaires and detailed guidelines to allow prison authorities to classify prisoners based on their individual needs and security risk. This risk evaluation tool, which is considered one of the common practices of modern prison management, was developed by prison staff from the three countries with the facilitation of UNODC experts, thus the tool could reflect the local socio-cultural context which led to its being successfully applied in the three countries. In-depth training on the use of the tool was also provided by UNODC to prison staff and social workers of the three countries to ensure its effective application. Social workers have a central role in interviewing the prisoners.

"Through our assistance, at least 500 prisoners have been interviewed and assessed. This is a first step to improve safety and security in the concerned prisons as the risk evaluation tool provides the basis for a better sorting of the prisoners, allowing to separate those who are genuinely at high risk from others, and to ensure that those who are in need of protection are protected. The challenge ahead is to ensure that the tool becomes part of regular prison management in the three countries without the need of our support" explained Mrs Piera Barzano, UNODC Senior Inter-Regional Advisor.

The activities that started in 2016 were implemented under the framework of the Sahel Programme and all contributed to the implementation of the UNODC Regional Programme and the SDG16 on "peace, justice and strong institutions." Thus, in the future, UNODC is planning on strengthening the capacity to apply the risk evaluation tool in other Sahelian prisons, adapting this tool to the contexts of Chad and Mauritania and conducting trainings of prison staff and social workers on its use in these two countries. Moreover, UNODC will also extend its support to countries beyond the Sahel, in West Africa, to prevent radicalization to violence in prisons, by developing more modern prison management techniques that can contribute to improving safety and security in the prisons.

For more information:

UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel

UNODC Contribution to the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel

UNODC Sahel Programme