French plan to keep extremist inmates together in doubt

How should France deal with its scores of radicalized prisoners? A new report has criticized the scheme of housing them together separate from other prisoners.

French plan to keep extremist inmates together in doubt
Frenses prison, the first in France to house radicalized inmates together. Photo: AFP

France, like other countries, is still trying to find a solution for what to do with its growing number of prisoners who are considered dangerous Islamist extremists.

After the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish Kosher store terror attacks of January 2015, carried out by individuals who were found to have been radicalised in prison, France thought it had the answer.

“We separate these inmates from the rest,” PM Manuel Valls said in the aftermath of the attacks.

“It must become a general measure but it must be done with discernment and intelligence,” the PM added.

A pilot scheme was set up in Fresnes prison that saw inmates housed in their own cells and in their own wing. The scheme was quickly mirrored at several other prisons.

The idea was to prevent already radicalised individuals from preying on more vulnerable prisoners and converting them to the cause.

But a critical report on Wednesday suggested this option was not the best solution.

The report by France’s chief prison inspector Adeline Hazan found that France’s justice system is facing a phenomenon “which it had no measure of the nature or extent of”.

Her report stresses that grouping Islamist extremist prisoners together continues to worry counter-terrorist judges because of the harmful impacts which include “allowing solidarity to build between prisoners, networks to be reconstructed and allow the more influential inmates to put pressure on the most vulnerable.”

The report adds that the method “has failed to demonstrate that it has a beneficial impact on the rest of the prison population”.

France simply does not have the structures in place to meet the scale of the problem of radicalised individuals, it says.

French prisons house some 1,400 radicalized individuals, including 300 who have been linked to terrorism and around 100 who have been sentenced for various terrorism related offences.

Hazan criticized the fact that the separation of radicalised inmates was motivated not out of finding the best way to treat these inmates but simply as the best way to battle proselytizing (the preaching of radical ideas) in prisons.

Her report was carried out after visits to the prisons with wings just for Islamist radicals. Hazan and her team spoke to 61 out the 64 inmates housed in the special areas.

France’s minister of justice now has a month to respond to the report before deciding whether to act on it or not.

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