Guidelines are being issued to prison officers, probation service staff, and gardaí on being vigilant for signs of radicalisation and of inter-agency co-operation in preventing its spread.
Handbooks containing practical advice on how best to deal with individuals —both those responsible for radicalisation and the people they target — are also being compiled, drawing on experiences of prison services around the world.
The Council of Europe project is headed by Vivian Geiran, director of the Probation Service, who chairs the Council’s Group of Experts on Penological Co-operation. He said November’s attacks in Paris highlight the need for the justice system to be alert to radicalisation.
“We don’t have a specific problem in relation to radicalisation here in the same way that they do in other countries like France and Belgium,” said Mr Geiran. “But we need to be part of the European-wide response. We need to be demonstrating solidarity with colleagues in other countries and we also need to be ready and in a position to respond if similar issues arise for us here.
“The people who will come across this issue where and if it arises are the gardaí in the first instance but also for ourselves in the probation and prison service we need to be aware what the warning signs are, how we can identify situations arising, make risk assessments and then manage the situations.”
Mr Geiran said prison systems across Europe have different approaches to dealing with the issue.
“In some places, they willput radicalised prisoners together in the same unit whereas in other jurisdictions they would be more inclined to disperse them,” he said. “We are looking at what works best. One of the general principles that does apply across the board however is that bad prisons make a bad situation worse.”
Ireland has had just one case of an extremist Muslim in prison here who was wanted elsewhere on terrorism charges but prison populations here are becoming more diverse, reflecting the change in the make-up of the population generally.
“People don’t become radicalised for one particular reason, and far more radicalisation goes on in the community than in prisons. But once in prison, a person may be more vulnerable to influence, they could be bullied or go along with it to become part of a group or acquire status. So while there’s an ideological element to it, there are a whole lot of reasons behind it.”
The prison service has experience of radical movements through the detention of republican prisoners.
“There are differences,” said Mr Geiran. “The people who end up in prison as part of those groups in my experience come in as a member of the group already but there are lessons to be learned from our experience. The important thing is that we learn so we can intervene effectively, not only to make prisons safer places, but society too.”