22 May 2015

Reintegration process of jihadist ex-detainees requires improvements

© iStockphoto.com/Gianluca68
© iStockphoto.com/Gianluca68

Prof. Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University) and Daan Weggemans MSc (University of Leiden) have conducted a world-first study on the return into society of persons formerly detained due to jihadism. The study has shown that the process of reintegration for these detainees often runs less than smoothly. The researchers published their findings today in a report titled Na de vrijlating: Een exploratieve studie naar recidive en re-integratie van jihadistische ex-gedetineerden ('Upon release: An exploratory study on recidivism and reintegration of jihadist ex-detainees') as part of the Politiewetenschap (Police Science) series in the Politie en Wetenschap programme.

Prof. dr. Beatrice de Graaf
Prof. dr. Beatrice de Graaf

During their prison detention in the terrorist wing, some detainees even develop closer ties with radical networks due to their proximity to other jihadists. The acts of arrest and detention also foster feelings of distrust and resentment. The status of some ex-detainees had grown among their comrades following their release, and in many cases they received only limited support during their reintegration.

Sanction list

Another significant barrier is the Terrorism Sanction List that can lead to negative effects following release, say De Graaf and Weggemans. The rigid and arbitrary application of this legislation makes it harder for ex-detainees to return to society. These effects can include frozen financial assets, or difficulty among formerly detained jihadists to open a bank account.

Aspects that do seem to aid reintegration include new social contacts, future prospects (e.g. education), involvement of (non-radical) family members and, in some cases, opportunities for ideological discussion.

Interviews with ex-detainees and professionals

The authors of the report have interviewed both ex-detainees from extremist backgrounds and professionals with practical experience in the reintegration process. The interviews also looked at the involvement of various types of professionals, and the police in particular. The main issues raised by professionals include the non-obligatory nature of reintegration programmes, a lack of available information, and difficulties with trying to pinpoint the true intentions of suspects from jihadist backgrounds. 

Detention as the start of a new phase

With their exploratory study, the authors close an important gap in research on the radicalisation and de-radicalisation of jihadist suspects and convicted persons. This type of criminal activity is relatively new, harder to penetrate and monitor than regular crime, and reintegration is a sensitive subject due to its high visibility in the political and public arena. The authors' stance is that a conviction or detention is not the end of the story, but rather the start of a new phase: it can either mark the beginning of a successful reintegration process, or spark a new cycle of violence.

The study is not exhaustive, but represents an initial foray into the subject. What is clear is that monitoring and support do not automatically lead to the desired results. After all, 'Upon release' also means that institutions and government authorities accept the freedom of ex-detainees to lead their own lives within the bounds of the law.