‘After release’: Studying reintegration of former jihadist detainees

‘After release’: Studying reintegration of former jihadist detainees

The release of (former) jihadists from prison is not the end of a process but rather the start of a next phase: it could be the beginning of a successful societal reintegration but also the start of a (new) cycle of violence.

The societal re-integration of jihadist detainees has not been a topic of much academic study. Attention has usually been limited to the detention of violent extremists. Sometimes with valid reasons: there is only a relatively small number of violent extremist detainees, most of whom are unwilling to participate in scientific research after they left prison. However, recent experiences with former detainees committing terrorist offenses have placed this issue high on policy agendas.

The explorative study ‘After Release’ fills an important gap in the academic literature about radicalization and de-radicalization of suspected and convicted jihadists. It emphasizes that the detention and release of (former) jihadists is not the end of a process but rather the start of a next phase: it could be the beginning of a successful societal reintegration but also the start of a (new) cycle of violence. When a former detainee is released from prison, it is the task of governments to ensure that this person no longer poses any threats to the public. Therefore, in recent decades various instruments for ’conventional’ criminals have been designed to prevent recidivism and to allow the former detainee a ‘softer landing’ in society.This is often much less the case for former detainees with jihadist (or other extremist) backgrounds; this type of crime is relatively new, difficult to understand and hard to monitor. In addition the reintegration of these prisoners (labeled by Mark Hamm as ‘the spectacular few’) is also a socially sensitive issue, which frequently does receive great political and public attention.

The study provides an insight into how detainees with jihadist backgrounds return to society. What factors promote or impede the process of reintegration? The aim of this explorative study was to describe experiences of detainees and existing practices of detention and reintegration. The researchers interviewed both former detainees with an jihadist background as well as professionals involved in the practice of reintegration. The study shows that the reintegration process is not without problems. Some of the former detainees became more involved in radical networks during and after their stay in prison. Furthermore, their arrest and detention increased feelings of societal distrust and resentment. After their release the status of some former detainees increased among comrades. In addition, some received only limited guidance during their reintegration. Another important barrier is the rigid and arbitrary application of sanctions affecting the reintegration into society in a negative way. The freezing of financial assets after their release leads to problems for example when opening a bank account, finding a job, or applying for social insurances. In contrast, new social contacts, a future perspective (for example via education), the engagement of (non-radical) family members, and in some cases the possibility of ideological dialogues may promote re-integration.

The study provides a starting point for further research. It shows that pathways after prison can differ greatly and that monitoring, supervision and assistance do not automatically lead to the desired results. Releasing someone from prison also implies that agencies and authorities accept the freedom of a former detainee to go his own way within the limits of the law.

The English translation of the study is forthcoming.