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Prisoner Responses to Terrorism: Online Radicalisation Proposal


Worldwide, thousands of de-radicalised detainees have been released into their communities.

• Is their conversion authentic?
• Is it permanent?
• How resistant it is to recidivism?
• How can the process be improved?

These questions are to be kept in mind while reading the various programs between countries that are outlined below.

As detailed below, Australia has currently initiated a new legislative proposal which adopts a more stringent approach towards radicalised offenders who have served their sentence yet are still a high risk to the community.

On an international scale, America's program in Iraq has had considerable success with a strong focus on religious de-radicalisation and the release of over 18,000 detainees. Similarly, Saudi Arabia has had the most success. This is because their de-radicalisation program targets changing the behaviour of convicted terrorist offenders rather than dealing with the ideological departure from radicalised Islamism.



In recent months there has been a push by Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis to introduce new legislation which would allow state correctional services to 'extend [the] detention' of inmates convicted of terrorism offences. These extended detentions will be subject to reviews appeals. Attorney General George Brandis has said that this will only apply to individuals who as they approach the end of their imprisonment continue to pose an unacceptably high risk to the community because of their failure to be rehabilitated as a result of a penal sentence. Effective de-radicalisation programs might reduce the need for such an extension, as it focuses on rehabilitation purely, rather than rehabilitation and deterrence by incarceration. Targeted de-radicalisation programs, however, in Australian prisons appear rare.

While there have been some programs under the policy spectrum of CVE (countering violence extremism), these have had mixed feedback. There have been calls for more rigorous evidence-based policies to be implemented, but academics have noted the difficulty in this because of the lack of access into prisons.

Disproportionate focus is placed on Muslim inmates and their potential for radicalisation when they only make up 3.3% of the general population, but constitute 9/3% of inmates in NSW.


The 'extended detention' legislative proposal spearheaded by the government targets individuals who "continue to pose an unacceptably high risk to the community" after failing to be rehabilitated in the course of their custodial sentence. Prisoners are pre-emptively punished for crimes they have not committed, and further punished for crimes for which they have already served time in gaol. Neither favours the offender and may simply serve to entrench anti-authoritarian and extremist belief.

5.1.3 NSW

NSW has a number of de-radicalisation programs in place within its prisons, but details are lacking. According to a Corrective Services NSW spokesman, radicalised inmates are dealt with through "pro-social engagement and positive reinforcement of acceptable values and beliefs", which includes inmates being motivated to participate in work and education. They are also isolated to reduce any negative influence they might have on one another.

A Muslim chaplaincy program backed by the Australian Imams Council also exists inside NSW prisons advocating pro-social values. Imams administer it and they are criminally checked and screened. They then work to reinforce acceptable beliefs and values in prisoners.


Victoria has a program of Muslim prison chaplaincy run by the Islamic Council of Victoria, which has been widely referenced in media and academia. It aims to:
1) Provide opportunities for religious worship and instruction
2) Religious advice and counselling
3) Advocacy on religious matters
4) Referral to other relevant support agencies

5.1.5 PRISM

The Proactive Integrated Support Model (PRISM) is a federally funded initiative currently in use in the NSW and Victorian jurisdictions. The PRISM framework attempts to help inmates move away from radical extremism and re-engage with the community once attitudes and beliefs of religious interpretations have been changed. Under this program authorities are supposedly trained "to generically allow those that have done the program to identify signs of radicalised behaviour" in prisoners and pass on that information to specific departments in order to assess, monitor, and act to rehabilitate individuals.

Because current Australian de-radicalisation programs are not producing the desired outcomes, it is necessary to look to international jurisdictions and to consider newer, more innovative approaches that address the social roots of radicalisation. NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin believes that implementing such programs would be a preventative measure taken before the release of offenders into the community. This was especially emphasised in the case of apparently radicalised Ahmed Elomar who was released on parole not having undergone the PRISM program, which Severin condoned. In a statement he said, "In my view, it would be beneficial for Elomar to complete this program before his release."



Established de-radicalisation programs around the world address the de-radicalisation challenge through a "combination of education, vocational training, religious dialogue, and post-release programs that help detainees reintegrate into society". However, the approach must differ on a country-to-country basis, tailored to the specific socio-political, cultural and religious climate. In secular countries, specifically where "limited capability and credibility constrain authorities' ability to influence ideology", considerations of religious engagement are important. Alternatively, in countries where religious dialogue has been a primary element, focus on "behaviour-focused components, such as education, vocational instruction, and post-release reintegration effort" is essential.

5.2.2 DENMARK Aarhus Model

The Aarhus model, named for the town in which it was developed, is a community program that works to de-radicalise would-be foreign fighters. Implemented by the Aarhus Municipality in conjunction with the East Jutland Police, the program offers young people at risk of travelling overseas and those recently returned from war zones the opportunity to reintegrate rather than face punishment. Danish authorities provide them with housing, healthcare, assistance finishing school and seeking employment, as well as a mentor.

The program advocates a soft (i.e. prevention) approach that relies on strong community networks and communication between teachers, counsellors, parents, and police. Concerned members of the public may report at-risk youth, and police in turn contact an imam to reach out to the individual concerned. In 2012, the program was expanded to include adult citizens in Aarhus.

The measure of success for the program is how many individuals leave to become foreign fighters; over the period 2013-2015, the number of people travelling from Aarhus to fight dropped from 31 to 1. Although this is not a prison program this provides a program, which has effective results in reducing recidivism, and could be used as a model for rehabilitation in prisons. Back on Track
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration developed Denmark's de-radicalisation program "Back on Track" in partnership with the Danish Prison and Probation Service. Running from 2011 to 2014 as a pilot, it was a mentorship-based program that targeted inmates convicted of terrorism offences, involved in hate crimes, or who were vulnerable to left wing, right-wing, or religious extremism. It aimed primarily to discourage inmates from having a negative influence on one another.

Mentors were sourced from a wide variety of professional fields, including social workers, prison staff, police, and lawyers, emphasising the need for a diverse approach to de-radicalisation. They acted as role models to encourage and support inmates to engage in alternative and more positive networks, and to maintain law-abiding behaviour and avoid extremist environments post-release. Mentors were also trained to teach their mentees conflict management and conversation techniques that would better enable them to handle everyday situations and problems. Encouraging positive relationships with family and social networks were also considered important components of the program, as they provide the basis for long-term support once an inmate is released.

The experiences from the Back on Track pilot program were incorporated into the expansion of the Danish Prison and Probation Service's mentoring scheme, which targets individuals designated as 'special risks' for their relation to extremism. Australia's acceptance of this mode of online counselling and de-radicalisation programs within prisons would mean the embrace of multimodal communication platforms that combine text, sound and image as part of their rehabilitation programs.


The U.S. program in Iraq has been probably the most extensive, involving 26,000 detainees. Modelled after the Saudi program, it includes religious de-radicalisation coupled with vocational training; civic education; art programs; family, tribe and community engagement; counselling and medical (physical and mental) treatment; and job placement. Over 18,000 detainees have been released through this program.


De-radicalisation process has been an integral part of the UK counterterrorism effort since the aftermath of 9/11 when radicalised individuals driven violent jihadism were convicted. Within the prison system, this has led to the creation of a training program that 'uses behavioural and theological interventions with extremist offenders or those vulnerable to extremist views. Individuals who become deradicalised and disengaged from a terrorist group through the form of a formal program allows individuals to realise and reflect upon their disillusionment. In most instances, it is highly likely that individuals will then proceed to actively assist in the defeat of their former comrades.


The army-supported Pakistan de-radicalisation program focuses on community re-integration. It creates direct links between participants and the community, the latter often providing mentorship or jobs. Addressing ideological concerns is not enough; the army recognises that adolescents, and young boys in particular, need to be provided with opportunities to make direct, meaningful contributions to society if they are to disengage long term from terrorism. A vital part of this is vocational training, which can help them obtain a job. This program in relation to online services within prisons could provide a necessary step from the rehabilitation provided in cells. The prisoners could use their skills and contacts learned through the online deradicalisation service and then apply it in a supportive community environment.

In contrast, public support for social-oriented de-radicalisation programs in many Western countries is non-existent, where the tide of public opinion more heavily favours imprisonment. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised that foreign fighters returning to Australia were guaranteed to face detention. In Belgium, Fouad Belkacem was sentenced to 12 years for helping arrange travel to Syria for young Belgians; while in Britain, foreign fighters returning from prohibited war zones such as Syria are likely to face treason charges or even a life sentence.


Early program evaluation of Saudi Arabia's custodial-based de-radicalisation program reported a 100 percent success rate. This figure was later retracted and amended to an 80-90 precent success rate. Of the literature that seeks to offer a comparative evaluation of the current international de-radicalisation programs, Saudi Arabia is frequently portrayed as the most successful. Its main point of difference is offered through its focus on changing the behaviour of convicted terrorist offenders as opposed to focusing on their ideological departure from radical Islam. This change in behaviour is collectively referred to as disengagement. Disengagement unlike de-radicalisation focuses solely on facilitating efforts that seeks to disengage individuals from the justifications that warrant using violence to bring about social and or political change. Such a shift in behaviour often means that individuals who subscribe to using violence can still uphold radical views.


Given the ease with which communication and physical movement across different jurisdictions occurs, the security threat posed by violent extremist groups is increasingly prevalent. Consequently, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has recently enhanced its role in providing advisory support for member states in managing violent extremist prisoners (VEP) with the aim of promoting de-radicalisation and thus deterring the propensity of recidivism. Additionally, the UNODC revised the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) in order to promote a universal standard for practices pertaining to the detention of VEPs. As such, the UNODC aims to divert the focus on punishment to establishing alternatives based on an individualised system of assessment, clarification and treatment of prisoners. This was manifest in its Sahel Programme which, with the support from Denmark, provided reintegration support for what it considered high risk detainees. With 186 activities implemented so far, UNODC has reached more than 5,700 direct beneficiaries and generated concrete results across the region.


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