In light of the attacks last month against Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical magazine in France, the country is implementing a de-radicalization program in many of its prisons.
Two of the terrorists from the deadly assault last month were previously in Fleury-Mérogis prison, the largest correctional institution in Europe. Another terrorist, Amedy Couliblay, had previously served time there.
France is known internationally for the amount of Islamic extremists that originate in its prisons. Although Muslims make up only 10 percent of the French population, 50 percent of French inmates identify themselves as Muslims, according to Newsweek.
However, these statistics do not mean that religious extremists are easily spotted. Farhad Khosrokhavar, a French sociologist who studies radicalization in prisons, told The Washington Post, “Most of the people who get radicalized in prison know very well they should not let their beards grow [and] should not go to collective Friday prayer when it exists.”
He also said prison guards are aptly aware of those prisoners who follow the noticeable tenants of Islam, and that those prisoners are “harmless.”
France is just one Western country that is implementing a de-radicalization program. Los Angeles Times opinion columnist, John Horgan, stated, “It might sound like cult deprogramming, but the reality is closer to halfway houses.
“Most programs are conducted in prisons with Islamist militants who have been apprehended by security forces or surrendered – but their actual crimes vary widely,” Horgan continued. “Some have killed, while others have provided material support, but they are all classified as terrorists.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, 3,400 “foreign fighters” have come from Western countries; 150 of those fighters have been from the United States.
Denmark is also creating de-radicalization programs. Due to the recent terrorist attacks in Copenhagen on Saturday, Feb. 14, a 12-point counter-terrorist initiative will be implemented, according to The Local, a Danish newspaper. The 10th point in this plan is to institute an anti-radicalization program in Danish prisons.
These types of rehabilitation programs are relatively new. According to the Los Angeles Times, there could be up to 40 total programs around the world. The best-known anti-radicalization programs are in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Denmark, Singapore and Germany.
Recently, Pakistan and Somalia began to implement these programs as well.
An unnamed spokesperson for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation told Newsweek, “Both France and the U.K. have developed manuals with instructions on what prison staff should look out for, however, the jury is still out, so to speak, on how effective prison de-radicalisation programmes are and which strategies are best.”
In regard to the United States, Horgan stated the U.S. Department of Justice recently funded two research projects related to de-radicalization programs.
Editor’s Note: Information from Newsweek, The Local, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post was used in this report.