Extremist inmates need customised rehabilitation programmes: expert

By Asker Sultanov


Prisoners look through the hatch of their cell door in Bishkek in January 2012. Kyrgyzstan's experience in working with convicted extremists and terrorists will be beneficial for other Central Asian countries, say specialists. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

BISHKEK -- A one-size-fits-all approach does not work with convicted extremists undergoing rehabilitation programmes, according to one analyst, citing experience gained from the roughly 25 such programmes that exist worldwide.

"Everything is very personalised," said Yuliya Denisenko, director of the Astana, Kazakhstan-based Association of Centres for the Study of Religions and a member of the Kazakhstani government's Council for Relations with Religious Associations.

"Specialists on site have to make adjustments based on each convict's personality traits," Denisenko told Caravanserai.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) retained her to help improve the Kyrgyz penal system's work with convicted extremists.

Extremists often have a more warped personality than do common criminals, she said.

"They live by the dogmas that radical groups imposed on them," she added. "Often they're incapable of logical thinking ... For them, the functions of moral thinking are practically shut off."

Painting a psychological portrait

Penal Reform International, a London-based NGO, conducted a research project this year examining the psychological characteristics of convicted Kazakhstani extremists.

The research turned up negative patterns in their thinking and behaviour like those found by the 25 programmes conducted around the world, she said.

"For the most part, destructive behaviour is inherent" in them, she said, adding, "They blame others, life and fate. They don't want to live because they find everything awful, futile and monotonous."

Meanwhile, a UNODC study of convicted extremists in Central Asia, concluded this year, found gender-specific motivations among men and women, she said.

Men are driven "by the search for justice" and by the desire "to realise leadership abilities, receive social or material benefits and to justify crimes", she said.

Women seek "to find a husband, obtain material benefits or avoid family conflict by getting married and cutting ties to their relatives", she said.

Many of the surveyed Kyrgyz convicts, who were aged 21 to 25, became radicalised before age 18 and fought in Syria, she added, noting the tendency of hotheaded youth to "reject models of behaviour".

Learning from work with inmates

The UNODC's work to train Kyrgyz psychologists, social workers and prison staff rehabilitate convicted extremists -- about which Caravanserai reported Tuesday (November 7) -- will pay dividends, predicted Denisenko.

That training will yield results and boost the capabilities of the Kyrgyz penal service, she said.

Moreover, the knowledge will be useful regionally, not just nationally.

"I am certain that the experience gained in Kyrgyzstan ... will be interesting and beneficial for other countries in Central Asia," she said.

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