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Australian Correctional Management Practices for Terrorist Prisoners



Management practices for incarcerated terrorists is an important counterterrorism policy consideration. Moreover, there is a misconception that once incarcerated, terrorists cease to be a risk. If correctional management regimes are implemented poorly, terrorist prisoners may be afforded the opportunity to remain active while incarcerated, including the recruitment of other prisoners, and the planning of future attacks. Equally, they may be viewed as role models or martyrs for sympathisers to aspire to. Despite the magnitude of the consequences, there is no agreed approach to managing Australian terrorist prisoners. As such, a dichotomy of dominant models has emerged; that is, to either segregate terrorist prisoners, or conversely, to disperse them throughout the wider prisoner population. Each strategy presents its own set of benefits and risks. This paper compares the management practices for terrorist prisoners in the states of New South Wales and Victoria to determine the strengths and vulnerabilities of each of these approaches. The paper concludes that policy-makers should consider reassessing current strategies. It suggests that a focus that extends the immediate containment considerations to encompass post-release factors would bring benefits for society.
Australian Correctional Management
Practices for Terrorist Prisoners
Nathan Thompson
Management practices for incarcerated terrorists is an important
counterterrorism policy consideration. Moreover, there is a misconception
that once incarcerated, terrorists cease to be a risk. If correctional
management regimes are implemented poorly, terrorist prisoners may be
afforded the opportunity to remain active while incarcerated, including the
recruitment of other prisoners, and the planning of future attacks. Equally,
they may be viewed as role models or martyrs for sympathisers to aspire to.
Despite the magnitude of the consequences, there is no agreed approach to
managing Australian terrorist prisoners. As such, a dichotomy of dominant
models has emerged; that is, to either segregate terrorist prisoners, or
conversely, to disperse them throughout the wider prisoner population.
Each strategy presents its own set of benefits and risks. This paper compares
the management practices for terrorist prisoners in the states of New South
Wales and Victoria to determine the strengths and vulnerabilities of each of
these approaches. The paper concludes that policy-makers should consider
reassessing current strategies. It suggests that a focus that extends the
immediate containment considerations to encompass post-release factors
would bring benefits for society.
Keywords: prison security, prisoner management, terrorism offences, Australia
ethods of effectively managing terrorist prisoners1 is an area of continuous
debate within corrections. Although incarcerated for their criminal acts, they
differ from conventional criminals. While the focus for mainstream offenders was
on addressing the criminogenic factors that contributed to their offending
behaviour; the focus for terrorist offenders was on their ideological motivation
which was often considered to be altruistic. Accordingly, imprisoned terrorists
“…view themselves as political/religious activists rather than criminals”
(Community Justice Coalition [CJC], 2016: 8). As such, it is argued that terrorist
prisoners are managed, based on who they are rather than what they have done.
Corresponding author:
This paper posits that conditions of confinement can influence the
likelihood of continued commitment to, and further involvement in terrorist
activity post-release. Consistent with the argument that “…a reduction of
recidivism rates is the primary goal of all government policies relating to prisons”
(CJC, 2016:10), focus must extend beyond the immediate security and
containment considerations to encompass effective reintegration support
following their release from custody. Therefore, correctional policies and
practices in the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria were analysed
to compare each approach respectively. From this, a cause-and-effect assessment
was developed that identified the areas of significance for each approach, along
with the resultant behavioural outcomes.
Management practices for terrorist prisoners remain an important consideration in
counterterrorism initiatives (Copley, 2002). In addition, there is a misconception
that once incarcerated, terrorists ceased to present a risk (Warnes & Hannah,
2008). If management practices are implemented poorly, terrorist prisoners could
be afforded the opportunity to remain active while incarcerated (Copley, 2002;
Jones & Morales, 2012). Further, the mistreatment or victimisation of terrorist
prisoners, whether perceived or actual, through overzealous management regimes
may also act to support the internalised grievance or sense of injustice that had
initially served to motivate these offenders (CJC, 2016; Department of Prime
Minister and Cabinet, 2010; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime
[UNODC], 2016).
Likewise, imprisonment presented the potential to transform terrorists into
“…iconographic symbols for followers on the outside” (Copley, 2002: 10). This
could act to enhance the status of terrorist prisoners in the eyes of impressionable
sympathisers (Porter & Kebbell, 2011; Silke, 2014; Veldhuis, 2016), which is now
reportedly being observed among incarcerated terrorists in some Australian
correctional facilities (Stewart & Maley, 2015; Toohey, 2014).
Despite the magnitude of the consequences, there was no agreed approach
to managing terrorist prisoners (Jones & Morales, 2012; Veldhuis, 2016). Prison
administrators have found it necessary to balance the risks of avoiding special
treatment against impeding their ability to remain actively involved in terrorist
activity (UNODC, 2016; Veldhuis, 2016; Warnes & Hannah, 2008). Current
management practices, while diverse in their specific detail, constituted a well-
defined dichotomy, namely separation (also referred to as concentration) and
dispersal (also referred to as integration) (Jones & Morales, 2012; Neumann, 2010;
Penal Reform International, 2015; Veldhuis, 2016) and each approach presented
its own set of risks and benefits.
Separation Regimes
Separation entails the clustering of terrorist prisoners within the same facility and
could be further divided into the sub-categories of segregation and isolation
(Neumann, 2010; Silke, 2014; Veldhuis, 2016). Segregation refers to the removal
from the mainstream prisoner population however a limited degree of interaction
among the segregated population was permitted while isolation prevented all peer
interaction (Neumann, 2010; Silke, 2014).
The objective of this approach is to create an interpersonal barrier between
terrorist and non-terrorist prisoners (Veldhuis, 2016), and thus reduce the degree
of influence that terrorist prisoners could exert over impressionable peers and
sympathisers. Arguably, this comes at the expense of creating an environment
that is conducive to peer reinforcement of their terrorist ideology (Copley, 2002;
Kennedy, 2008; Veldhuis, 2016) and confirmation of the perceived status derived
from their identity as a terrorist (Copley, 2002; Porter & Kebbell, 2011).
Dispersal Regimes
Dispersion refers to the distribution of terrorist prisoners throughout the prison
population (Jones & Morales, 2012; Neumann, 2010). Silke (2014: 246) identified
the benefits of this approach as being to, “…encourage dissent within the terrorist
organisation…” and diminish the influence that terrorist prisoners exert by making
them a minority within the wider prisoner population (Bucci & Bachelard, 2015;
Toohey, 2014; Veldhuis, 2016). However, this is achieved at the expense of free
interaction between terrorist and non-terrorist prisoners and as such, offers greater
opportunity for incarcerated terrorists to proselytise (Copley, 2002; Neumann,
2010; Stewart & Maley, 2015).
In Australia, the management of terrorist prisoners is primarily governed by the
National Custodial Management Guidelines for the Management of
Inmates/Prisoners Deemed to Present a Special Risk to National Security (NSW
Parliament. Record of Proceedings, June 8, 2005: 16553) and the administration
of those guidelines was delegated to each respective state. Alternately, the
benchmark policy, The Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia, made
no specific reference to the management of terrorist prisoners. It did however,
offer direction for the management of high risk inmates by stating:
There are occasions where the risk profiles of particular persons in
custody require additional components for their effective management.
Consequently, an appropriate management regime should be developed
and implemented to ensure the ongoing management and good order of
the prison is preserved (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2012: 36).
This recommendation aligns with findings by Veldhuis (2016: 2), which gave
preference to “…a ‘security first’ approach which was geared toward achieving
immediate control and risk management often at the expense of prisoner rights or
longer-term considerations such as reintegration. It is consistent with evidence
that some Australian jurisdictions had favoured such an approach with the
objective of preventing the proliferation of extremist propaganda throughout the
prison population (Jones & Morales, 2012; Stewart & Maley, 2015), and
maintaining a high-degree of control over this prisoner group through the
implementation of highly restrictive management regimes (Banks, 2016; Bashan
& Silmalis, 2015).
Arguably, the security focus has driven the creation of specialised
accommodation units (informally referred to as Supermax) such as the Olearia
Wing at Barwon Prison in Victoria and the High-Risk Management Correctional
Centre (HRMCC)2 at Goulburn Prison in New South Wales (NSW Parliament,
2006, White., 2016). The assignment of a special status demanded the
implementation of special management approaches for prisoners convicted of
terrorism-related offences (Corrections Victoria, 2015a; Corrective Services NSW
[CSNSW], 2015; Spaccavento, Dowel, & Quilkey, 2008).
Consideration was given to the legislative environment governing the
management of terrorist offenders in Australia, which could be said to be in a
perpetual state of enhancement. For example, the introduction of mandatory
imprisonment for returning foreign fighters (see Counter-Terrorism Legislation
Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act, 2014 (Cth)) will undoubtedly result in an
elevated front-end demand for correctional administrators. The provision to
indefinitely detain convicted terrorists who are considered to present a continued
risk to national security will further contribute to administrative system pressure
(see Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Act, 2016 (Cth)).
To demonstrate, it was reported that this legislation would initially likely
apply to nine inmates in New South Wales and four in Victoria who were
convicted of Commonwealth terrorism offences. However, with time, it may be
applied to a further twenty-three current prisoners in New South Wales, eleven in
Victoria, and two in Queensland (Hutchens, 2016). Accordingly, Community
Justice Coalition (2016: 30) asserted that “…recent legislative efforts by the
Government to indefinitely detain terrorist offenders even after serving their
sentence suggests a national gravitation towards continued incarceration over
improving rehabilitative efforts,which demonstrated a preference for a punitive
approach over one that featured rehabilitation.
Notwithstanding these legislative, operational, and administrative
considerations, correctional administrators in New South Wales and Victoria have
implemented contrasting management strategies (Jones, 2016). New South Wales
favoured segregation, which observed the clustering of terrorist prisoners in
special facilities (NSW Parliament, 2016). Victoria preferred a dispersal strategy
whereby terrorists were distributed across the prison system and only segregated
if they represented a specific risk (Bucci & Bachelard, 2015; Jones, 2016).
Administrative Approaches
The primary administrative consideration in prisoner management was the
prisoner classification system. During a 2006 Parliamentary inquiry, the then-
NSW Commissioner Woodham explained the significance as “…the security of a
prison is not barb, tape and towers: It is the classification system. If you get that
right you are as good as you are ever going to be” (NSW Parliament, 2006: 29),
and it was ultimately concluded during that enquiry that “…an effective
classification system is fundamental to the security of a correctional system”
(NSW Parliament, 2006: 29). Corrections Victoria reported that, “…the
assessment and classification of prisoners is critical for the security, safety and
well-being of prisoners and a pivotal process in the smooth operation of the prison
system” (Victorian Ombudsman, 2006: 73).
New South Wales
In New South Wales, the classification of terrorist inmates was informed through
application of the Violent Extremist Risk AssessmentVersion 2 (VERA 2), which
was applied in conjunction with generic offender assessment methods (NSW
Department of Justice, 2014; Silke, 2014). This assessment graded the inmate
against thirty-one criteria; twenty-five being risk factors and six protective factors.
These factors were separated into the categories of Beliefs and Attitudes, Context
and Intent, History and Capability and Commitment and Motivation (Pressman &
Flockton, 2012). Globally, the reliance on risk assessments in prisoner
classification was increasing and served to “…impact sentencing, correctional
classification, placements, program interventions and release determinations”
(Silke, 2014: 144).
Notwithstanding the guidance provided by VERA 2, administrative
practice evidently favoured segregation. This was observed through the
assignment of Category AA (for males) and Category 5 (for females) security
ratings, which were specifically created for terrorism-related offenders and
defined as:
…the category of inmates who, in the opinion of the Commissioner of
CSNSW represent a special risk to national security (for example,
because of a perceived risk that they may engage in, or incite other
persons to engage in, terrorist activities) and should at all times be
confined in special facilities within a secure physical barrier that
includes towers or electronic surveillance equipment (CSNSW, 2015,
Section 12.3.2).
The Category AA and five security classifications were unique insomuch that they
were arguably assigned based on the nature of the offence rather than on the
identified level of risk. This contrasted with the remaining security classifications,
which were risk-based and encompassed a variety of offence types (NSW
Parliament, 2006, NSW Parliament, 2016).
Correctional administrators in New South Wales exercised the capacity to
assign an additional security designation. Although independent, when defining
the relationship between the security classification and security designation it was
concluded that “… it is not possible to understand the management of high risk
offenders by the Department without considering classification and designations
together” (NSW Parliament, 2006: 27). As such, the combination could be argued
to have enabled greater specification of the nature of risk presented by high-risk
Of relevance was that of the National Security Interest Inmate designation,
which was created solely for terrorist offenders. This designation was assigned in
circumstances that represented:
[a] risk that the inmate may engage in, or incite other persons to
engage in, activities that constitute a serious threat to the peace, order or
good government of the State or any other place (Reg 15, Crimes
(Administration of Sentences) Amendment (National Security Interest
Inmates) Regulation, 2015 (NSW)).
Alternately, additional security designations, such as Extreme High Security and
Extreme High Risk Restricted were assigned based on the level of risk to others or
the threat posed to the “good order and security” of the correctional facility and
could be imposed on any inmate who satisfied these criteria, including those
convicted of terrorism related offences (CSNSW, 2015, Section 18.3.2).
This classification framework attracted criticism for being overly complex
and confusing (NSW Parliament, 2006). The existing practice, which specifically
defined terrorist offenders as a unique entity indicated that terrorist inmates were
administratively segregated within the classification system. This arguably
contributed to the development of the terrorist identity among inmates in New
South Wales correctional facilities (Rubinsztein-Dunlop & Dredge, 2016). The
existence of this identity was further detailed by Spaccavento et al. (2008) who
reported that there was a reluctance to downgrade the security classification of a
terrorist inmate due to safety concerns and asserted that:
…there is a real risk that a Category AA inmate, once so classified, will
remain so classified regardless of his actual “special risk to national
security”, contrary to the policy of applying the least restrictive security
level appropriate to an inmate’s level of risk (Spaccavento et al., 2008:
Notwithstanding these concerns, it was concluded that, “…persons charged with
terrorist offences are regarded as representing a new and special risk to the security
of the State, justifying a special security rating within the correctional system”
(NSW Parliament, 2006: 50).
In contrast, the Victorian approach offered less distinction in its classification of
terrorist prisoners and instead integrated this offender group into the existing
prisoner classification process. Terrorism offences were assigned the highest
score (7) on the offence severity scale which predisposed this prisoner group to
being assigned the A1 security rating (Corrections Victoria, 2016). This rating
was defined as High Security (the highest security rating in the Victorian system).
Still, this rating was not exclusive to terrorist prisoners, but rather, was universally
applied in circumstances “…where the prisoner poses a major threat to the
physical safety of other prisoners or staff, or the good order and security of the
prison” (Corrections Victoria, 2016: 3).
Consistent with New South Wales, Corrections Victoria also exercised the
capacity to assign a risk-based designation in conjunction with the security rating,
namely Special Category Status (Corrections Victoria, 2015a). Again, this
designation was not exclusive to incarcerated terrorists. However, terrorist
offenders were predisposed to Special Category status due to the definitional
criteria for its assignment. This included cases where the prisoner “…has been
sentenced to a minimum effective sentence of 10 years or more, or has been in
custody for 10 years or more,” or where the case “…may be of special community
interest,” or in instances where “…[the prisoner] requires special attention due to
his/her need for intensive program support or high levels of supervision”
(Corrections Victoria, 2015a: 3).
The Victorian approach favoured the principle of treating terrorist
prisoners like any other serious offender. Furthermore, classification decisions
resulted from actual levels of risk rather than the nature of the offences. In doing
so, the opportunity was reduced for incarcerated terrorists to assume a terrorist
identity because of their classification. The outcome was diminished status and
even discredit within the prisoner population. This was considered an essential
condition when viewed in conjunction with the operational practices that allowed
for a greater level of interaction (when compared with New South Wales) between
terrorist and non-terrorist prisoners.
Operational Practices
New South Wales
Category AA and Category 5 prisoners were predisposed to segregation by virtue
of the requirement for such inmates to “…be confined in special facilities”
(CSNSW, 2015, Section 12.3.2). Nevertheless, the nature of these facilities was
not defined (Spaccavento et al., 2008). In practice, the segregation of Category
AA inmates in the HRMCC was favoured (El-Said, 2015; NSW Parliament,
2016). This unit was designed to safely and securely house inmates:
…who have been assessed as posing a high risk to the safety of the
community, correctional centre staff and/or other correctional centre
inmates or present a serious threat to the security and good order of a
correctional centre and a serious threat of escape (NSW Parliament.,
2006: 71).
Consistent with the security first approach detailed by Veldhuis (2016), New
South Wales posited that “The primary goals of the HRMU are security related,
and the unit achieves its security objectives very well. It should also be made
clear that this unit is not primarily a therapeutic unit…” (NSW Parliament, 2006:
Inmates housed in the HRMCC were subjected to a tiered management
regime whereby privileges were granted and withdrawn based on inmate
behaviour (Banks, 2016; NSW Parliament, 2006). Association with other inmates
was one such privilege and some tiers of the hierarchal management regime
imposed a condition of complete social isolation whereby all peer association was
disallowed. Other tiers allowed limited interaction with specified peers, however
in all cases, free association with the general inmate population was prevented
(NSW Parliament, 2006).
Arguably, parallels can be drawn between the objectives of the HRMCC
and the Terrorist Wing concept presented by Veldhuis (2016). Then again, while
the Terrorist Wing Model imposed an impermeable barrier between terrorist and
non-terrorist prisoners (Veldhuis, 2016), the barrier within the HRMCC more
aptly resembled that of semi-permeable. This was due to the placement of other
high-risk non-terrorist inmates (such as escapees and gang leaders) in that same
facility (NSW Parliament, 2016; Rubinsztein-Dunlop & Dredge, 2016; Sutton,
2017). This practice allowed for a degree of association between HRMCC
inmates (NSW Parliament, 2006; Sutton, 2017) and presented the opportunity for
non-terrorist inmates to become indoctrinated by their highly concentrated
terrorist peers (Rubinsztein-Dunlop & Dredge, 2016; Sutton, 2017).
To rectify this vulnerability, a revised management approach was
announced by CSNSW whereby terrorist inmates would be segregated from non-
terrorist inmates through the creation of a dedicated terrorist wing within the
HRMCC (O’Sullivan, 2017).
In practice, the most important benefit of segregation was observed in the
removal of the most influential terrorist proselytisers from the general prison
population (NSW Parliament, 2006, NSW Parliament, 2016). This restricted the
ability of these inmates to use their terrorist identity to freely influence and recruit.
Notwithstanding this, two convicted terrorists were progressed from the HRMCC
to the mainstream prisoner population after having their security classifications
downgraded in early 2016 (Harris & Phelps, 2016). This supported the assertion
that a predisposition to segregated confinement was not absolute and challenged
the concerns expressed by Spaccavento et al. (2008) that Category AA inmates
would remain so classified regardless. It was compliant with the human rights
practice of applying the least restrictive security classification commensurate with
the identified level of risk (UNODC, 2016).
Consistent with the subject literature, the segregation of terrorists in the
HRMCC was reported to create conditions conducive to peer reinforcement of
terrorist ideologies among the segregated cohort (Banks, 2016; Rubinsztein-
Dunlop & Dredge, 2016; Sutton, 2017). This enabled a strengthening of their
terrorist identity (Rubinsztein-Dunlop & Dredge, 2016), and reports of the
indoctrination of non-terrorist inmates (Harris & Phelps, 2016; Schliebs, 2016).
Internationally, this approach attracted criticism because “…the
concentration policy, probably as a result of fear-based pressures in the decision-
making context, is based on exaggerated risk assessments and flawed assumptions
about the nature and degree of prisoner radicalization and how it can be countered”
(Veldhuis, 2016: 6), and was described in the Australian context as
“…problematic and probably counter-productive” (Jones, 2016: Para 1).
Arguably, the shortcomings of segregation were evidenced in the cases
involving Khaled Sharrouf and Guy Staines who, following their release from
prision, were reported to have travelled to Syria to become foreign terrorist
fighters with Islamic State (IS) (Info Ops HQ, 2016; Schliebs, 2016).
Management strategies in Victoria mirrored that of New South Wales with
Operation Pendennis defendants being segregated in the high security Acacia Unit
at Barwon Prison (Carlton & McCulloch, 2008). This practice attracted criticism
from the judiciary and resulted in a benchmark ruling by Victorian Supreme Court
Justice Bongiorno (see R v Benbrika and Ors, Ruling No. 20), who defined the
relationship between highly restrictive conditions of confinement and the
defendant’s diminished ability to receive a fair trial. This resulted in all the
accused being transferred to an alternate facility for the duration of their
proceedings (Carlton & McCulloch, 2008).
More recently, and in contrast with earlier practice, Corrections Victoria
adopted a dispersal model where terrorist prisoners were distributed across several
prisons (El-Said, 2015; Jones, 2016). An objective of this strategy was to reduce
their collective influence (Bucci & Bachelard, 2015). The benefit was observed
in the diminished standing that terrorist prisoners had in the general prisoner
population (Bucci & Bachelard, 2015; Stewart & Maley, 2015). This included
“…weakening the narrative…that Muslims had to rise-up against a justice system
that was inherently against them” (Bucci & Bachelard, 2015: Para 10).
While provision existed to segregate problematic prisoners, this was not
considered a long-term option and focus remained on management strategies to
facilitate the prisoners return to a mainstream placement (Corrections Victoria,
2014). National guidelines recommended that “…restrictions placed on high risk
prisoners should be no more than are necessary to maintain safety and security
based on an individual assessment of the prisoners’ risk(s)” (AIC, 2012: 36).
Consistent with this recommendation, Corrections Victoria (2015b: 14) asserted
“…the effective management of this group of [segregated] prisoners is an ongoing
process of negotiating a balance between competing requirements control and
necessary restrictions versus rehabilitation and meaningful activity.”
In practice, Abdul Nacer Benbrika was identified as being one of the most
visited prisoners in Victoria (Stewart & Maley, 2015). Furthermore, several
Benbrika’s visitors were considered to have travelled to foreign conflict zones and
engaged as foreign fighters after visiting and being inspired by him (Dowsley,
2016; Info Ops HQ, 2016). This reportedly resulted in Benbrika’s transfer from
Port Phillip Prison to Barwon Prison’s Acacia Unit in late 2015 to disrupt his
influence and followed further reports that he was proselytising within the prison
(Bucci & Bachelard, 2015; Dowsley, 2016; Info Ops HQ, 2016). This
demonstrated a key vulnerability of the dispersion strategy. That being, that higher
levels of peer contact enabled influential figures, such as Benbrika, to freely act
as a propagandist.
De-Radicalisation Programs
Therapeutic programs were, arguably, at the forefront of de-radicalisation
initiatives, both in prisons and in the community and were considered to be a
significant component in offender rehabilitation (AIC, 2012, Victorian
Ombudsman, 2015). Notwithstanding the potential long-term benefit of such
programs, Australian de-radicalisation initiatives were described as modest (El-
Said, 2015), and the Community Justice Coalition (2016: 21) reported that
“…targeted de-radicalisation programs, however, in Australian prisons appear
rare, with a systemic preference for punitive options that “…may simply serve to
entrench anti-authoritarian and extremist belief” (CJC, 2016: 22). This supported
the proposition that the safety first approach was favoured despite Veldhuis
(2016) having cautioned against it, and arguably, demonstrated a predisposition in
favour of punitive responses while long-tern rehabilitation appeared to be
New South Wales
Initial responses by New South Wales were informal and included initiatives such
as the Muslim Chaplaincy Program which aimed to “…contain radicalisation and
[ascertain] how to engage with partner organisations to assist with the transition
from custody to community” (Khoury, 2014: 1) and further “…to engage prisoners
and reinforce acceptable beliefs and values” (Khoury, 2014: 2).
New South Wales implemented a more structured federally funded
program (NSW Parliament, 2016). Namely the Proactive Integrated Support
Model (PRISM), which was directed at prisoners who were identified as being at
risk of radicalisation (CJC, 2016; Markson, 2016, NSW Parliament, 2016). This
program focused on a combination of life skills and religious moderation
(Andersen, 2016; NSW Parliament, 2016). This program reportedly did not
encompass inmates who were charged or convicted of terrorist offences, nor was
there an alternative program specifically for terrorist prisoners (Andersen, 2016;
Markson, 2016). At the time of writing, no statistics pertaining to PRISM were
Corrections Victoria demonstrated an early interest in de-radicalisation programs
(Akbarzadeh, 2013; El-Said, 2015; Brown, 2015; Dowsley, 2016), which
evidently favoured offender rehabilitation over punitive responses (UNODC,
2016). The motivation to de-radicalise Victorian prisoners resulted in the
implementation of the Community Integration Support Programme (CISP)
(Akbarzadeh, 2013; El-Said, 2015). It was summarised that this initiative:
…is directed at Victorian-based Muslim offenders for terrorism related
offences. The program provides Islamic awareness sessions to
prisoners; re-integration support for those who are nearing release from
prison; religious support and mentoring; and post release, re-integration
individual and group social support including family support where
appropriate. Continued participation in the program is mandated as part
of released prisoners’ parole conditions (Victoria Police, 2010 as cited
in Akbarzadeh, 2013: 459).
The objective of this program was “…challenging radical ideas and correcting
distorted views on jihad among convicted terrorists” (Akbarzadeh, 2013: 459).
This approach extended beyond the period of incarceration to encompass
community and family support post-release which is was specifically aimed at
preventing a relapse to terrorism (Brown, 2015). Mid-2017 reports indicated that
twenty-two current and former Victorian prisoners were engaged in this program
(Houston & Donelly, 2017). However, the future of CISP is uncertain with reports
that the Islamic leadership has withdrawn its support for the program citing
concerns that an over emphasis has been placed on Islamic radicalisation while
neglecting right wing extremism (Le Grand & Urban, 2017).
In practice, the level of success experienced by de-radicalisation programs
in Australian prisons was unclear (CJC, 2016; Khoury, 2014). The Victorian
Ombudsman (2015: 5) concurred reporting more generally that “…although much
research supports the proposition that programs can be effective in reducing
recidivism, it is not possible to confidently state how effective any individual
program is.
Prison de-radicalisation programs were broadly criticised for being
incapable of achieving their objectives due to “…dealing with highly radicalised
individuals…” who are “…in a confined environment where they are together and
are reinforcing each other’s views” (Andersen, 2016, Para 3,4). Akbarzadeh,
(2013: 452) concurred reporting that “…the success of this approach, however,
has been limited because it fails to take into account the full array of factors that
contribute to radicalisation. The Community Justice Coalition echoed these
concerns and asserted that the current approach “…overlooks ‘affiliation’ factors
such as personal relationships, social networks, and the sense of community and
belonging, which exert a strong influence over decisions to join a terrorist
organisation” (CJC, 2016:19).
El-Said (2015) was critical of Australian de-radicalisation programs and
argued that the role and influence of the offender’s family in the de-radicalisation
process had been completely neglected. This contrasted with the Saudi Arabian
program that was reportedly yielding success rate of between eighty and ninety-
eight percent (El-Said, 2015; Silke, 2014), although it was also argued that this
high success rate was due to cultural factors that were specific to the Saudi Arabian
context (El-Said, 2015). Notwithstanding this, it was proposed that the Saudi
approach represented a possible model for other countries de-radicalisation
programs. Though these adapting countries would have to embrace the Saudi
cultural context to expect similar results (CJC, 2016; El-Said, 2015). For this to
occur in Australia, the current predisposition for punitive management practices
over rehabilitation would have to be reassessed.
Management practices for incarcerated terrorists represent a dichotomy; namely
to segregate from other prisoners or to disperse throughout the prison population.
This paper investigated the contrasting approaches implemented in New South
Wales and Victoria, which encompassed administrative procedures, operational
practices and therapeutic programs within the custodial environment.
The prisoner classification system was identified as being potentially the
most important factor in effective offender management for terrorists. This was
observed through the potential to develop a terrorist identity, which afforded
inflated status, and consequently, the ability to influence those who were
vulnerable to terrorist propaganda.
New South Wales favoured a segregated approach, clustering terrorists in
the state’s high-risk management centre. But, the segregation of terrorists was
potentially counterproductive to the goal of rehabilitation. This was further
exacerbated by the cohabitation of high-risk terrorist and non-terrorist offenders.
Conversely, Victoria preferred a dispersal model were terrorists were distributed
across several prisons. The fears of widespread proselytising were arguably
unfounded with such behaviour being limited primarily to one influential
With reports that released terrorist prisoners, and those inspired by them,
continue to seek to travel to foreign conflict zones to engage in terrorists training
and activities, the objectives of offender rehabilitation are not being achieved. In
view of this, policy-makers should consider reassessing current strategies. Focus
should extend beyond the immediate containment considerations to encompass
post-release factors. By doing so, the benefits for society would increase.
1. In New South Wales those incarcerated are referred to as inmates, while
Victoria refers to them as prisoners. Therefore, the terms inmate and prisoner are
used interchangeably in this paper.
2. The High-Risk Management Correctional Centre (HRMCC) was formerly
named the High-Risk Management Unit (HRMU), and as such may be referred to
as either dependent on the era of that reference.
I offer my sincere gratitude to Dr Clarke Jones for his valued feedback during the
development of this paper.
Nathan Thompson, AssocDegCrimnlgy&Just, is completing studies in security,
intelligence and counterterrorism studies at Edith Cowan University, Western
Australia, where he is majoring in organised crime. He has worked in several
Australian correctional jurisdictions where he focused on prison security and risk
management in relation to prison radicalisation.
Akbarzadeh, S. (2013). Investing in Mentoring and Educational Initiatives:
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This thesis investigated the nexus between terrorism-specific prisoner classifications and management practices and identity salience through the application of Structural Symbolic Interactionism. Utilising Applied Thematic Analysis as the analysis framework, document content was developed into themes which were then applied to the premises of the underlying theory. Focus was directed at the historical practice of assigning Special Category Status in Northern Ireland between 1972 and 1976, coupled with the subsequent Criminalisation Policy between 1976 and 1981. It then compared these findings with the current practice of assigning the terrorism-specific Category AA classification in New South Wales. The findings offered a detailed understanding of the ways in which terrorist-specific classifications and management practices were interpreted by terrorist prisoners as identity symbols. Such interpretations subsequently acted to promote a sense of differentness between incarcerated terrorists and ordinary criminals. This perceived distinction afforded a source of validation to the terrorist’s self-view of being something other than that of an ordinary criminal, and by extension, that their violent acts were something other than a crime. Through this interpretation process, incarcerated terrorists were observed to embrace a salient identity which rejected the criminality of their acts and supported their belief that they were being persecuted for their beliefs rather than prosecuted for their crimes. The effects of such prisoner management practices were evidenced in Northern Ireland through the prisoner’s continued commitment to terrorist group ideals and the high potential for recidivism. The New South Wales practice was found to produce similar outcomes, which lent support to concerns that such classification and management practices may serve to perpetuate the terrorist violence that it intended to prevent.
Changes in criminal justice in New South Wales over the past 10 years have been frequent and diverse. Most have been consistent with themes identified in an article which tracked changes from 1975 to 2009–10, that is, triggered by populist political responses and informed by punitive responses to crimes, although there have been some changes which do not fit this characterisation, particularly in relation to domestic violence and offences against children. The precipitous rise in incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly women, continues to demonstrate the reliance on incarceration as a response to crime.
The terrorist attacks of November 2019 and February 2020 in London, perpetrated by individuals who had previously been incarcerated on terrorism charges, reinforces the complexity of the challenges that prisons around the world manifest in relation to terrorist offenders. Frequently articulated through descriptions of prisons as ‘hotbeds for radicalisation’, concerns are undoubtedly reinforced by the tales of notorious terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri. If prisons do pose a risk of radicalising individuals, or of further radicalising violent extremist offenders, informed policy decisions relating to the management of incarcerated terrorists are essential. Focusing on the Australian context, this paper analyses three prisoner management methods currently implemented around the world. In recognising the complexity of incarcerating terrorist offenders, benefits and challenges relating to the concentration, dispersal and the seldom-used tier method are identified and discussed. The paper examines the risks and management of radicalised prisoners post-release. Finally, an Australian initiative is introduced, which legislates supervision or detention of those proven to be an unacceptable risk of committing a serious terrorism offence, as a potential way to mitigate those risks. The paper concludes that if concentration is to be utilised, greater emphasis must be placed on rehabilitation and monitoring upon release.
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Terrorism in its many forms has had a strong impact on the correctional industry. It has affected the prisons, the inmates, the staff and the conditions under which the inmates are held and the legal and human rights framework under which the industry operates. This is particularly in relation to the collection of intelligence, the relationship between terrorists and criminals, the importance of collaboration with other agencies, security conditions (including human rights concerns and torture, technology, buildings, funding), the recruitment of future terrorists (for example militant Islam, white supremacists) and also the speciic effects that the “war on terror” has had on the state of the corrections industry.
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The Australian Government has tried to counter the threat of Islamic extremism by investing in mentoring and educational initiatives. Fearful of the potential for “home-grown” extremism, especially after the July 2005 London attacks, the Australian authorities seek to counter the narrow-minded narrative of extremism by sponsoring “moderate Islam”. This approach is aimed at presenting a counter-ideology to Islamism, and has had some success. But it neglects the broader context of Muslim experience which is marked by socio-economic under-privilege and political alienation. These experiences marginalise Australian Muslims and make them vulnerable to extremist ideas. This pattern is most evident among the youth, whose sense of self is still in flux. Furthermore, the state's sponsorship of “moderate Islam” puts Australia on a questionable path as it chips away at the principle of the separation of state and religion and makes moderate Muslims vulnerable to accusation of “betraying” Islam by the more radical elements in the Muslim community. This paper argues that efforts by the Australian Government to counter radicalisation are hindered by a range of political, cultural and socio-economic factors and analyses these factors in the light of historical, ethnic, cultural and social conditions relevant to the Muslim community in Australia.
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Operations to counterterrorism in the southern Philippines have resulted in the arrest and incarceration of a significant number of key militants. As a result, the Philippine government has expressed concern that these inmates may radicalize others and continue to operate while incarcerated. As a preventive measure, the government has considered a number of “soft” counterstrategies, including the development of a de-radicalization program. To study the feasibility of running such a program in the Philippine corrective system, this article examines two interrelated areas of enquiry concerning how terrorist inmates are housed and whether prison gangs foster or discourage radicalization in the Philippine prison system. Initial findings suggest that the integration of terrorist inmates with prison gangs may temporarily encourage disengagement and set the foundations for de-radicalization. However, without a specifically designed intervention strategy, the terrorist inmates may revert to militancy once they have returned to their original social settings.
This comment focuses on the treatment and conditions experienced by unconvicted terror suspects in Australian prisons paying particular attention to the case of the Pendennis defendants in Victoria's Barwon Prison. Central to this comment is Victorian Supreme Court Justice Bongiorno's recent landmark ruling that identified a link between the treatment and conditions of the defendants and their ability to receive a fair trial, While highlighting the human rights implications that stem from the treatment of the accused in high-security this comment focuses on continuities between the treatment of prisoners and detainees in domestic prisons and the pre-emptive punishment, abuse and torture of unconvicted terror suspects in off-shore US run military prisons in the ‘war on terror’. It argues that the Bongiorno ruling is significant insofar as it demonstrates the vital role that civil courts and judicial oversight can play in imposing limits on the arbitrary exercise of state power within criminal justice institutions.
This volume provides an overview of intervention and management strategies for dealing with terrorist and extremist offenders in prisons. The management of terrorist and extremist prisoners has long been recognised as a difficult problem in prisons. In most countries, such offenders are relatively rare, but when their numbers increase these prisoners can undermine the effectiveness and safety of the prison system. At a global level there is an increasing recognition of the problem of militant jihadi extremists in prison and their ability to recruit new members among other prisoners. The numbers of such prisoners are low but growing and, as a result, prisons are becoming centres of radicalisation; indeed, in some cases, terrorist plots appear to have been based entirely on networks that were radicalised in prison. This volume presents an expertly informed assessment of what we know about terrorists, extremists and prison, exploring the experience of a wide range of countries and of different political movements. Drawing critical lessons from historical case studies, the book examines critical issues around management strategies, radicalisation and deradicalisation, reform, risk assessment, as well as post-release experiences. The role that prisoners play in the conflicts beyond the jail walls is also examined, with case studies illustrating how prisoners can play a critical role in bringing about a peace process or alternatively in sustaining or even escalating campaigns of violence.
Portions of this research were supported by Public Safety Canada. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of organizations which have supported this work in part or those organizations with which the authors are affiliated. Thanks are due to officials in Public Safety Canada, The RCMP, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency and The Parole Board of Canada which provided assistance and feedback on this work. Law enforcement officials in the United States and professionals in the Prison Services of the United Kingdom also provided insightful comments and suggestions which have improved the current work. All errors of content and focus are solely the responsibility of the authors and are not the responsibility of the Government of Canada, the Government of Australia, or any other agencies or employees.
Richard Warnes is a Research Analyst at RAND Europe and Doctoral Researcher at the University of Surrey, where he is examining ‘Western’ societies' counter-terrorist measures. He is a former Metropolitan Police Officer and has also served with the British Army. Greg Hannah is a Senior Analyst at RAND Europe, completing Doctoral Research at the UK Defence Academy, Shrivenham on organisational approaches to the development of suicide attack capabilities. He was previously a Senior Analyst for the National Audit Office. In this article, they explore how the prison environment can nurture and facilitate radicalism, contradicting the view that once imprisoned, terrorists are no longer a threat to society. They discuss the challenge posed to the authorities in dealing with extremist and radicalized prisoners by drawing on previous experiences and lessons from the imprisonment of nationalist extremists in Europe, specifically Irish Republican and Basque separatist prisoners. They then look at similar organizational activities by violent jihadists in British and Spanish prisons, to counter the mindset that once imprisoned, such prisoners no longer pose a threat, addressing the dilemma of whether to segregate or isolate violent jihadist prisoners in an attempt to mitigate the future threat of a growth in extremist radicalization within prisons.
This article explores theories of radicalization by analysing the 21 individuals convicted to date under Australian anti-terrorism laws. All 21 are Australian citizens and so are discussed with reference to literature on home-grown terrorists. Open source data in the form of media and law reports were collected and analysed for descriptive features of the individuals and their involvement in terrorism-related activities. Themes consistent with elements of process models of radicalization were found, particularly identity issues, ideology, capability and group dynamics. The features analysed are discussed in relation to social attachments and rationalizations, as well as counter-radicalization initiatives.
Anti-terror laws: Anne Aly says prison de-radicalisation programs unlikely to work
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Andersen, B. (2016). "Anti-terror laws: Anne Aly says prison de-radicalisation programs unlikely to work," in ABC News, July 26