The ten country papers in this volume are part of a project which has investigated policies and approaches towards extremist prisoners across Europe. They formed the empirical basis for our report, Prisons and Terrorism: Extremist Offender Management in 10 European Countries (London: ICSR, 2020), which was published in July 2020 and is available from www.icsr.info.
Our aim was to identify trade-offs and dilemmas but also principles and best practices that may help governments and policymakers spot new ideas and avoid costly and counterproductive mistakes. In doing so, we commissioned local experts to write papers on the situation in their respective countries. To make sure that findings from the different case studies could be compared, each author was asked to address the same topics and questions (Appendix I), drawing on government statistics, reports, interviews with various stakeholders, and their own, previously published research.
The resulting data is inevitably imperfect. For example, there is a large ‘known unknown’ that relates to the post-release situation. It is possible that many inmates who adopt extremist ideas or associate with extremist networks in prison simply abandon and disassociate from them upon release. Likewise, some cases that are often portrayed as instances of prison radicalisation are difficult to verify. Anis Amri, the perpetrator of the 2016 Christmas market attack in Berlin, reportedly radicalised in Sicilian prisons between 2011 and 2015. Yet there are few details on his prison stay, and in any case, it is apparent that his subsequent involvement in the extremist milieus of Düsseldorf and Berlin were just as important as his time in prison. Nevertheless, our contributors’ collective insight – often based on years of study of the countries in question – into this subject is our project’s unique strength.
The picture they paint is one of European countries trying to grapple with a challenging – and rapidly changing – situation, as many European countries had to deal with an increase and diversification of their extremist offender populations, raising systemic questions about prison regimes, risk assessments, probation schemes, and opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration that had previously often been dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Many of the questions raised in this volume will undoubtedly keep policymakers and societies busy for years. The papers – together with our report – are a first, systematic contribution towards tackling them.
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