This short position paper wants to address a number of issues concerning Multi-Agency, Private and Public Partnership (PPP) within Prison & Probation environments and beyond. The position paper is seen from the angle of an NGO specialized in security and counter-terrorism and therefore considers PPP as part of a broader approach to strengthen the efficacy of counterterrorism policies from a democratic point of view that respects the balance among different powers, actors and jurisdictions.

Is the threat properly evaluated?

The attacks in Paris and Brussels are clear indicators that the terrorism threat is alive and can hit our societies.

However, these events highlighted also the intrinsic weaknesses of prevention policies based solely of security and the inability of the security apparatus to provide viable solutions for this type of asymmetric conflicts. Paradoxically both attacks were carried out in a framework of high security measures and were conducted by people and groups who were already identified, well-known to intelligence agencies and scrutinized as potential threats and in some case on top of the list of the most wanted persons.

The military presence as well as the security apparatus is very visible both in Paris and Brussels; moreover, both countries, France and Belgium, adopted an aggressive communication strategy on the specific issue of terrorism and framed the problem of radicalism within a war paradigm. Both countries implemented draconian legislations on foreign terrorist fighters and are very active as key stakeholders among the intelligence community. The investment in security and defense are growing in both countries as well as their military interventions in Syria and Iraq. Counter-radicalization and counter-narrative programs are active in both countries and the prison system adopted a hard stance against any form of alleged radicalization within prisons.

Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent two very serious attacks with high number of casualties. We are seriously concerned that overblown evaluations of radical phenomena may lead to disproportionate solutions that risks to become push factors towards terrorism and violence.

Looking from a civil society perspective, the European Union, MSs and security agencies tend to exaggerate the threat represented by radicalization and we are therefore concerned that decisions in this field are taken under the pressure of media campaign driven by the security industry in absence of a clear risk analysis. It’s clear that casualties provoked by terrorism are always distressing and need a clear reaction by the States. But we need also to rationally frame these events within their own context. Our suggestion is that DG HOME and JUSTICE support actions aimed at producing scientific risk analysis based upon proper metric and framed within probability analysis, leaving aside political pressures and media campaigns or, even worst, emotional reactions provoked by terrorist attacks.

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Number of persons killed by terrorist attacks from 1970 to 2015. Source: The Huffington Post

Data from TE-SAT reports 2015 confirms the decreasing trend of the terrorist threat as clearly illustrated in chart 1. This tendency is also corroborated by numerous serious and independent researchers at International level but strongly contrasted by State actors who tend to exploit counter-terrorism laws to introduce emergency regulations and compress the socio-political competitive dynamics. In this framework, despite quite a bit of alarmed commentary to the contrary, prisons do not seem to have served as hotbeds for terror recruitment. Even in the United States the alarmist trends previously pushed by Islamophobic organizations is decreasing after that the CRSR (Congressional Research Service Report) concluded that “threat emanating from prisons does not seem as substantial as some experts may fear” (Bjolopera, 2013, pg. 22 and Gartenstein-Ross and Grossman, 2009, pg. 58-59, John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart, 2015, pg. 96).

Our suggestion is that DG HOME and JUSTICE support actions aimed at producing scientific risk analysis based upon proper metric and framed within probability analysis, leaving aside political pressures and media campaigns or, even worst, emotional reactions provoked by terrorist attacks.

This overvaluation and medializations of the threat has tangible consequences in terms of political and financial priorities but first of all in terms of prejudices for the civil liberties and freedoms at EU and MS levels and this is what terrorists want. Indeed, this alarmist and exaggerated approach that spread fears can paradoxically cause the escalation of radical dynamics by vulnerable individuals and groups, thus undermining trust in State institutions and therefore exposing the security sector to the risks of being part of the problem more than part of the solution.

While terrorist cannot destroy our society, as proven by the constant and tangible decrease of terrorism indicators in all Western countries and by the low level of damaged caused by the attacks if compared with other threat indicators, and contrary to continuums alarms lanced by the security industry, every time we pretend we are fighting in an emergency area, we not only confer greater power and importance to terrorists than they deserve but we also at the same time act as their main recruiting agents by suggesting that they have the slightest potential for success.

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Activists protest against French authorities using emergency Law to ban demonstrations at the Place de la République in Paris. Photo: Ian Langsdom / EPA

This is a particularly critical aspect for prison environments where groups dynamics are a key factor and therefore vulnerable individuals can assume radical narratives to acquire protection of groups perceived as powerful and strong, thus assuming their behavioral methodologies. If we start from wrong assessment we may generate monsters.

Therefore independent and experienced NGOs play a crucial role to contribute to correct disproportionate measures taken by the security industry that are a substantial part of the radicalisation process be it within prisons, universities, media or the societies at large. 

To read the entire article please open the first file enclosed.