De-radicalization programs in prison

                                                                                                                                                                                         Nathee Chitsawang




        It could be said that the terrorism has been one of the global trends as in various countries the terrorists have been increasingly sent to prisons. Because of this,these days the treatment of the terrorist and extremist prisoners becomes a very crucial issue which can affect the efficiency of prison administration. In reality, the proper treatment, care and programs for rehabilitating and de-radicalizing the terrorists do not only lead to the successful prison management, but they also help to lessen the violence and prevent damage from terrorist activities in the society outside. Therefore, prison-based deradicalization programs have become common in many countries where there are  extremist prisoners incarcerated in their prisons. However, the effectiveness of such programs is still questionable. In case that the programs work,  programs in one  country may not be working in another country. It depends on the difference of social and political context  in which they are implemented. However, sharing experiences among countries may help us to learn from each other. The purpose of this paper , therefore, is to share experience of the prison-based deradicalization program in Thailand.


Who are the terrorist and extremist prisoners in Thai Prisons?


        Legally, there are no terrorist prisoners in Thai Prison. There are only member of insurgent groups who were sent to prison for their crimes they had committed. The insurgent groups had long been operated in the southern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some part of Songkhla Province. These members of insurgent groups who feel alienated by the government misadministration were recruited from local people in such provinces, therefore, they were harmonized with local people. Leading by the 5 main insurgent groups including the BRN-Coordinate, National Liberation Front of Pattani, the Islamic Majahidin Movement of Pattani, the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and the United Front for the Independent of Pattani, there were many insurgency-related incidents occurring during the last ten years. Apart from the 5 main insurgent groups, some Islamic radical groups, drug trafficking groups and contraband goods smuggling groups were also involved directly or indirectly with such incidents.However,such incidents are still be what A. Giddens (1) called “old forms of terrorism”tightening with local organization. The incidents resulted in thousands of deaths including civilians, polices and insurgents. Also a hundred of insurgents who involved with the incidents were sent to prisons in the southern Thai provinces.


Treatment Process


        Although the treatment process of the terrorist and extremist inmates might have some foundations in common with the treatment of the other groups in terms of the reception, orientation, classification, rehabilitation, pre-release and after release, there are, however, some differences in the details of approaches due to the fact that the terrorist prisoners possess quite unique characteristics, behaviors and criminal motivations. Accordingly, it is argued that in order to make it easier and more effective, the terrorist and extremist prisoners must be treated separately from other groups of inmates. The segregation of treatment can help to prevent them from recruiting more members among the prisoners. On the contrary, some authorities believe that the custody and treatment of terrorist groups with other ordinary inmates can promote harmony and reduce a feeling of alienation among inmates. In fact, to segregate or integrate the terrorist prisoners with the others, it should depend on the type of prison population in each institution for example, in Thailand the majority of prison population in some southern provinces are harmonized with extremist prisoners. Therefore, prisoner segregation is necessary. In this connection, terrorist and extremist prisoners are treated separately from other groups of  prisoner.


        Treatment programs to be selected for these group of prisoners must be carefully evaluated. There are many sound programs that have been set up by several organizations in many countries. One of the best De-radicalization Module is the Integrated Rehabilitation Module for detainees under the Malaysian Prevention of Terrorism Act (2) However, since no programs fit all the terrorist and extremist group, the selection of the appropriated program is very crucial. In Thailand, therefore, the difference of social and political context should be taken into consideration before implemented these programs.Normally, most terrorism and the acts of terror come from the profound differences in political, religious and ethnical believes, which provoke serious disputes and disagreement. They can be also originated from the feeling about being treated unjustly or discriminated and also the feeling of revenge. As a consequence, when they were sentenced to prison, the treatment programs aiming at changing their behaviors must start from exactly understanding and well recognizing the ideology of this inmate group. The prison staff must be willing to accept and try to understand their differing viewpoints. Besides, the prison officers have to believe that the terrorist groups usually have their own political and religious believes, and motivations. Everything they have done is perceived among them as the right thing. The radical and violent actions might come from the reaction to the parties treating them cruelly.


Classification of Extremist Prisoners


        To understand their ideology and mindset, the prison officers must complete the classification process to become familiar and to get to know the terrorist inmates individually in accordance with their personal believes. Next, the custody and treatment programs for the terrorist and extremist prisoners can be divided into 3 parties which should be treated dissimilarly.


  1. The Hard core or those who are the group leaders having strong motivations and ideologies.
  2. The staff or soldiers who are at operational level.
  3. The supporters who do not have any specific ideologies.


Diagram 1 show the treatment process of these 3 groups of prisoners.


        The first step is extremely significant, starting from the reception to the separation between the convicts and unconvicts. The second process is the individual and group classifications including the mapping of relationships between each terrorist group and radical network. The next approach is the rough division of them into three levels which have different treatment programs: 1) the supporters 2) the people on operation and 3) the Hardcore.


The supporters and the soldiers


        This group is composed of people who do not adopt any ideologies but joined the terrorist group because of the high pay. Most of them do not obtain employment and tend to be linked with the illegal drugs. Consequently, the treatment of this type of terrorist group must focus on the vocational skills and personal attitudes by enhancing employability after release. At the same time, they have to embrace new ideologyof living peacefully and avoiding violence.


The Hardcore


        The Hardcore and most staff performing operations tend to refuse the active participation in the treatment programs provided by prison authority. They adhere to a strong belief that they had done the right things; or they were defamed by the crimes they did not commit. Hence, the program for the Hardcore must be an informal dialogue in terms of sharing of feeling, and the methods allowing them to release their anger or feeling of being treated unfairly. The programs also include the negotiation to reducea negative feeling particularly towards the prison staff. However, the opposing perspectives towards the society outside are mainly up to the conditions of community. Diagram II shows the treatment programs for terrorist and extremist prisoners

       The decrease in violence can be produced in terms of listening, showing them genuine compassion and helping them on some issues, such as the ease of their concerns about their families, the request to be transferred to other correctional institution situated in their hometowns or the assistance for the prisoners’ relatives and families to come visit at prisons, as well as the personal help on living behind bars. Accordingly, the informal dialogue must be created by the leaders of prisons or social elites in the community outside. During serving time in prisons, the terrorist inmates have to learn to live together with those holding dissimilar opinions and to follow religious teaching from the right religious leaders. In some prisons, the programs used group therapy and informal dialogue by let them express their feeling and hardships and try to listen and understand them. Intervening to change their radical attitude were introduced later. Incentive were given to them for exchange of their cooperation and participation in the programs. This approach seems to be successful. The program show positive result in reducing the level of radicalization, even thought it is only in prison wall. The question is how the program ensure that prisoner de - radicalization is effective not only inside the prison but also after their release.  This is not sure because there are many variables beyond the prison wall. Therefore, de - radicalization program inside prison and outside prison should go together.




        The scheme for providing the treatment programs to change attitudes and reduce the anger of inmates engaging in theterrorist activities or committing crimes against national security inside Thai prisonsis quite new. It is worth mentioning that recently, the total population of this group of inmate has been increased rapidly. Therefore, Thailand still has a problem on finding the proper management and treatment of the terrorist and extremist inmates. In brief, the obstacles could be explained as follows:


1. Prison overcrowding

        Thailand has been faced with the prison overcrowding crisis for more than a decade. The current prison population is three times larger than the total capacity. Although more than 50 percent of prisoners in Thailand areactually the drug-related inmates, the situation seems to be getting worse when the number of terrorists in prison has continued growing. The overcrowding in correctional facilities has a major impact on the available space and limited resources to provide them with the proper treatment programs and activities as well as the classification process which cannot be done efficiently under the situation of mass imprisonment.


2. Prison design

       Most correctional facilities are not designed for arranging activities and programs for this specific group. Many prisons were designed for detaining a normal type of inmates. In addition, the facilities were established for many decades ago. The correctional settings have to be specially designed and planned for the terrorist inmates.It is very important for the prison authority to have separated unit to launch the treatment programs.


3. Increase in pre-trial prisoners

       About 90 percent of the terrorists are pre-trial inmates because their cases have not been sentenced yet. The problem is that when they are still the pre-trial prisoners, they are likely to refuse to attend the treatment programs. As a result, the programs and appropriate approach to reduce the anger and to change their behaviors tend to be based on an informal dialogue.


4. Professional staff

        The well-trained and highly-skilled officers to develop the treatment programs for the terrorist inmates are essential. They must have great expertise and skills in dealing with the terrorists. Also, they have to build up and gain complete trust between terrorist inmates. Accordingly, the staff must be the high-ranking officials who hold absolute power of negotiation process. However, it should be noted that the mechanism to find the officials and to train them to possess all necessary skills takes very long time.


5. Change of behavior

       Although the behaviors and believes of the terrorist groups might be successfully altered in prisons due to the treatment programs and the hard work of prison staff, it is still very difficult to change their attitudes towards the country and national authority. Because of this, the society outside must also help to change their ideology and prevent the possible factors causing the terrorism and extremist prisoners.





       The de-radicalization programs in Thai prisons are fairly new and very unique from other countries’ system owing to the fact that they have to be designed and developed in accordance with Thailand’s background, social context and other relevant conditions.However it is hoped that , sharing experiences of how we manage the de - radicalization program in prison will help us to learn from each other.



  1. A.Giddens“Searing People May be the only Way to Avoid the Risks ofNew Style Terrorism,” New Statesman, 18 ( 840) 2005, p.29
  2. Ministry of Home Affairs, “Integrated Rehabilitation Module for Detainees, Kuala Lumpur: UPM Press,2016