Imprisoning extremists together doesn't help: Leiden PhD

Correctional facilities should focus on rehabilitation and reintegration of radicalized prisoners, instead of focusing on the prevention of radicalization among other prisoners. This is according to PhD research done by Tinka Veldhuis, assistant professor of Criminology at the University of Leiden, at the University of Groningen.

The public and political attention paid to the risk of radicalization among prisoners has lead to drastic measures in several countries, such as segregating extremists in separate high security prisons. But according to Veldhuis' research, titled "Captivated by Fear. An Evaluation of Terrorism Detention Policy", such policies may produce undesired outcomes and may prove to be counter productive in the long run.

"Housing extremist prisoners together in restrictive security regimes may fuel frustration and anger among the inmates and their communities. It can also lead to stigmatization and contribute to post-release reintegration problems and radicalization", according to Veldhuis. "It seems that public fears of prisoner radicalization give rise to policy responses which focus only on short term outcomes but ignore potential undesired side-effects."

According to Veldhuis, the risk of prisoner radicalization may even be smaller than is assumed as terrorism offenders in the Netherlands seem to be at the bottom of the inmate hierarchy. "our findings suggest that extremists cannot easily gain an influential position in prison. Of course there may be certain charismatic figures who can have a radicalizing influence on other prisoners, but this is certainly not true for all extremists."

Veldhuis believes that automatically segregating all extremist offenders is not a necessary response and that such decisions should be based on individual risk assessments.  "If the risk of radicalization among other inmates is indeed smaller than is often assumed, then placing extremists in harsh regimes that can only radicalize them further is not helpful. Most of these inmates will eventually be released into society. From a security perspective, it is important to invest in rehabilitation, so that they can reintegrate into society and steer away from extremist views.