Prevention of violent extremism in West African prisons: development of a regional classification and assessment tool for detainees

The French-speaking coastal states of West Africa, notably Togo and Benin, experienced several security incidents in the course of 2022, which highlighted the spread of the violent extremism crisis to new areas previously spared. The number of people in detention for terrorism-related offences continues to rise.

In this context, the Research and Awareness Unit and the Justice Section of the UNODC Regional Office for West and Central Africa organised from 3 to 7 October in Cotonou, Benin, a regional workshop to develop a risk assessment and prisoner classification tool. During the workshop, 26 prison officials from the beneficiary countries (Togo, Benin, Senegal, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire) produced an operational guide adapted to the cultural norms and practices of the region.
According to UNODC's Regional Representative for West and Central Africa, Dr Amado Philip de Andrès, "Prisons represent a fertile environment for radicalisation to violence. The assessment and classification of prisoners, in accordance with the Nelson Mandela Rules, is a key measure to prevent violent extremism".

This regional workshop to develop a risk assessment and prisoner classification tool is part of a project supported by the Kingdom of Norway for the prevention of violent extremism and radicalisation in prisons in five French-speaking coastal states of West Africa: Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Togo.

During the research activities and capacity building workshops carried out in the beneficiary countries, the issue of the assessment and classification of prisoners was a recurring and central issue. Indeed, state prison administrations did not rely on formal processes.

The implementation of assessment and classification techniques allows the needs of prisoners to be addressed effectively from the moment they enter prison. A systematic analysis of the prisoner's needs using structured tools makes it possible to determine the risk factors to be taken into account in order to avoid potential incidents. The use of this assessment guide is therefore fundamental to ensuring the safety of the establishment and its infrastructure as well as the safety of other inmates and prison staff.

For a better appropriation and continuity of the guide, UNODC will train at the end of November in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, 10 experts from Member States as trainers on the use of the guide to support the establishment of specialised assessment and classification units in five pilot prisons.