Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the joint global initiative on preventing violent extremism in prisons closed 2020 by taking stock of the project’s many achievements throughout the year. Its main aim is to support Member States as they address the complex challenges of violent extremism in prisons.
The programme is implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre, in coordination with the United Nations Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. In 2020, UNODC and its implementing partners continued supporting national officials in Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Uganda. They implemented 45 activities despite the pandemic, and demonstrated agility in adapting to public health orders.
From building more effective dynamic security and intelligence frameworks, to developing prisoner classification systems and creating a rehabilitative environment in prisons; the multiple initiatives built up the capacities of Member States in handling the threat of violent extremism in prisons.
Several country officials noted the significance of these activities across the domestic and international arenas. Among these were General Major Meyram Ayubayev, Deputy Chairperson of the Kazakhstan Prison Committee, who emphasized that “dynamic security, or maintaining relationships of mutual respect and trust between staff and prisoners, is by far the best way of keeping prisons safe and secure, as well as encouraging prisoners to engage willingly in rehabilitation programmes.”
In Tunisia, where a country work plan for assistance was endorsed, the Minister of Justice for Tunisia, the Honorable Mohamed Boussetta, noted that “the signing of the global and national initiatives reflects the Tunisian Government’s commitment to the global approach on preventing violent extremism.”
Promoting governments’ ownership and sustainability were at the core of programme implementation throughout 2020. In Kazakhstan, UNODC worked alongside prison officials to establish a Prison Staff Training Centre on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) in Prisons and built the capacity of national trainers to deliver courses on PVE. By the end of 2020, the Centre had well surpassed its annual goal of training 200 prison officers.
In Uganda, training modules on preventing violent extremism in prisons were developed and integrated into the Prison Academy and Training School basic curriculum, while building the skills of Ugandan prison trainers to deliver the courses.
In addition, prisoner classification frameworks were developed jointly with the prison authorities of Kazakhstan and Uganda, to differentiate prisoners who present different security, custody and treatment needs, that require different correctional management and intervention approaches.
The programme also supported COVID-19 preparedness and response by providing technical guidance, protective equipment and other supplies, to allow national prison administrations to perform their essential duties safely during the pandemic.
During 2020, UNODC and its implementing partners also worked closely to continue building strategic relationships. The programme supported national prison officials in engaging with civil society organizations, to better support the rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners and establish local stakeholder networks for preventing and combating violent extremism. The programme promoted the critical role of rehabilitation and social reintegration of violent extremist prisoners during an event at the 2020 virtual edition of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Week.
Highlighting the critical role prisons can play in ensuring public safety through the effective rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners back into society, UNODC Executive Director, Ms. Ghada Waly, has said that “the COVID-19 crisis has put the spotlight on prison overcrowding, poor conditions and lack of resources, and the acute risks these deficiencies pose to 11 million people in prisons worldwide, and the health of all communities. We have a collective responsibility for prisoners’ humane treatment and social reintegration. And we need to value the work of prison staff, who deliver a social service that too often goes unrecognized.”
On behalf of the European Union, Mr. Oliver Luyckx, Head of Unit for Security in the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) at the European Commission, noted that “this important endeavour requires a multi-agency approach between prison and probation administrations, judicial authorities, police forces, local governments, social workers and other local actors, including local communities. In this field, UNODC is showing sustained dedication and leadership through our joint programme, implemented in Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Uganda.”
Reflecting on the results of the programme implementation in Uganda, Dr. Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija, Commissioner General of the Uganda Prisons Service, underlined that “the generous funding from the European Union, the Netherlands and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism contributed to the successful social reintegration of ex-prisoners through promoting access to justice and good prison management.”
For an in-depth look at the 2020 achievements of the global joint initiative, view the video by clicking here