P & P Workshop: Risk Assessment – Brussels, September 2017


 Brussels, 11th – 12th September 2017


Attendee Report:

  • comm. Michela Cangiano- PRAP Sardegna- regionale NIC
  • Carla Ciavarella- DAP-DGF – Uff. I
  • chief comm. Vitoantonio Decenvirale – PRAP Puglia e Basilicata –regionale NIC
  • superintendent Michele Quinto – DAP – NIC
  • chief comm. Goffredo Zarrella – DGMeC – Ufficio ispettivo



The thematic workshop organised by the Belgian penitentiary administration was focused on the introduction of some operating models used by the partner countries, and others, as means to prevent and counter radicalisation and violent extremism, within prison and probation services, concerning, in particular, risk assessment profiles.

The workshop was attended by the representatives of the penitentiary administrations of France, Romania, Bulgaria, Belgium and our Italian delegation. The colleagues from Portugal and Cyprus did not attend the meeting (the colleagues from Cyprus sent a message apologising for their absence). As regards the research team, besides the director and the researcher from the Syracuse Institute, the representative of University of Timisoara, the representative of Exit association, the researcher of Lab.rel. Institute (University of Padua) and the representative of UCOII did attend the workshop.

The meeting in Brussels was also an occasion of sharing and updating every project partner on the status of research work aimed, among other things, at identifying and sharing a common methodology to detect and assess the risk of radicalisation among detainees within partner countries’ prisons.

The workshop was well-organised (see annex 1). The contents proposed by the different speakers were useful recommendations discussed and considered by the attendees on the spur of the moment, allowing for a more appropriate and focused structuring of the questionnaire in preparation.

The workshop was an occasion to reaffirm the importance of the project to the partner countries as a useful means to compare and analyse the complex aspects concerning the prevention and countering of radicalisation and violent extremism within prison and probation services and face these phenomena effectively.



 During the two days of work, the main approaches used in this field by other European penitentiary administrations were examined and the risk assessment systems currently used in Belgium and France were analysed.


Study of the different approaches in risk assessment on radicalisation (University of Galway)

During his speech, Dr K. Sarma, the researcher from the University of Galway, by means of a case study, portrayed the issues related to risk assessment tools in order to identify some guiding principles.

It was highlighted that the radicalisation process may be facilitated by some environment conditions within the prison setting, such as idleness. In such an environment, the potential impact of charismatic individuals on weak and de-structured personalities which suffer from an inner uneasiness represents the ideal mix to trigger and spread hate, intolerance and violence. The risk assessment tools currently used may be connected to three different approaches: subjective, objective and mixed.

The mixed approach seems to be the most advisable approach as it provides prison workers with a baseline which is not meant to eliminate but support their decisional autonomy, without relying only on their personal experience and knowledge. It was indeed underlined the central role of prison workers who carry on the assessment and whose judgement capacity is to be developed, also reducing inevitable conditioning.Both the “assessor” training and the inspection process by one or more supervisors are important in this context. The role of supervisors might not be limited to the “quality” inspection of the assessors’ evaluations but also represent an alternative viewpoint. This approach, not strictly connected to any schemes, falls into the guidelines identified for using the HCR-20 model, by which the assessor may choose “other defendable structures for making assessments(see annex 2).

Lastly, Dr Sarma emphasised a recent trend under which prison workers are excessively zealous and tend to standardise assessments to high-risk assessments. The results of this trend are easily identifiable in an increasing amount of work and potential leak of relevant information. The outcomes of Dr Sarma’s research are described in the unified document “Risk assessment and the Prevention of Radicalization from Nonviolence into Terrorism(see annex 3).   

The experience of the Belgian penitentiary administration

The representatives of the Belgian penitentiary administration, Astrid Boelart and Nico Braspenning, depicted the intervention contexts and risk assessment tools for radicalisation. In particular, VERA 2R, a risk assessment tool developed by D. Elaine Pressman in 2009, was analysed. This first version was revised in 2012 (Pressman and Flocktion), taking advantage of feedbacks from international experts. The VERA 2R is the most comprehensive version and includes risk and threat assessment of the broad spectrum of violent extremists. It also includes relevant indicators for mental health issues. In particular, the following benefits, among others, from using the VERA 2R version were highlighted:- it is suitable to be used by different agencies and institutions;- it is multidisciplinary in the assessment process;- it is approved by the judicial authority;- it was developed in the context of international research.A summary of this speech is included in the unified document “Risk Assessment of Radicalized Offenders in the Belgian Penitentiary Institutions(see annex 4).

The colleagues of the Belgian penitentiary administration also mentioned the role they have within their administration: at the central level, they are in charge of assigning prisoners charged or convicted of terrorist offences to the more suitable prison. The so-called CELEX service plays, at the national level, a monitoring and assessment function of all the dangerous prisoners charged, convicted, or vulnerable to the risk of (violent) radicalisation. CELEX identifies prisons for the first and successive assignments, using the available information, and reviews the assignment and prison regime on a quarterly basis by means of behavioural reports from different prisons.                

The experience of the French penitentiary administration      

The representative of the French penitentiary administration, G. Blin, depicted the intervention contexts and risk assessment tools for radicalisation. In France, where institutions are based on the principle of secularity, is illicit to carry out censuses and surveys on ethnic and religious basis. Nonetheless, it is estimated that Muslim prisoners account for 50%-70% of the 65,000 total prisoners.

The radicalisation of individuals involved in terrorism often takes place in prison cells. According to the data provided by the French authorities, this allegedly happens in 15% of the cases related to jihadists.

Counter-radicalisation strategies within the prison setting implemented by the French penitentiary administration consist of support groups, researchers’ interventions, dialogue with religious exponents, psychologists and terrorism victims. They are aimed at preventing the risk that some prisoners who embrace ideological extremism may engage in violent actions after release. Experts focus on the limited number of prisoners, selected according to their profiles.

The recrudescence of terrorism induced the French penitentiary administration to reshape its own de-radicalisation interventions within the prison setting, updating the tools for identifying “radicalised” prisoners and implementing an accompanying program in view of their reintegration into society.

These strategies also included a diagnosis of penitentiary institution functioning, life during imprisonment, relationships among detainees and prison staff and methods used by the latter to identify Islamic radicalisation.

This first stage highlighted the absence of a “clear” definition of radicalisation, resulting in a different and personal perception of the phenomenon. Furthermore, an excessive fear, together with a lack of training of prison workers, may lead to confuse radicalisation with religious practices or political opinions or, even, a “simple” provocative attitudes towards the penitentiary institution.

This may determine a risk of stigmatisation of the Muslim prison population. It is also underlined that, if prisoners perceive discrimination, they are more likely to radicalise. Therefore, the necessity to redefine the basic concepts and “de-construct” the existing tools, which sometimes were ineffective and outdated, was stressed. A summary of this speech is included in the unified document “Direction de l’administration pénitentiaire(see annex 5).

The risk assessment and monitoring for radicalisation within probation services: an experience of inter-institutional coordination

In particular, the second day of work focused on the analysis of operative management model in Great Britain, regarding the risk assessment techniques, started with a brief introduction to the activities carried out by EXIT s.c.s. Onlus, a social cooperative born in 2011 with the intention to plan and manage social care services, addressed to the vulnerable members of society and concerning abuse and oppression in general, also including the kind of abuse and deviance which may develop within prison settings (see annex 6 ).

The work continued taking into exam the so-called “National probation service”, an agency born on 1st June 2017, headquartered in London, which works together with 21 rehabilitation communities (Community Rehabilitation Company) in managing low and medium-risk recidivist offenders, in order to help them to live a responsible and law-abiding life.

With particular reference to risk assessment profiles for radicalisation and violent extremism, the contents from the so-called “multi-agency public protection arrangements” (MAPPA), process by which the law-enforcement agencies together with prison and probation services cooperate with other agencies in managing offenders, especially sex offenders, in order to assure appropriate public safety conditions, were analysed.

The explanatory contents about the nature and activities implemented by the multi-agency public protection arrangements are further discussed in the Mappa – Guidance 2012, updated as of December 2016. The organisation adopted by Great Britain, which joints the needs of safety and those of examination, treatment and reintegration, also, and above all, within probation services, seems to be an effective response for prevention, re-socialisation and social control.

The speaker, Mr Omar Mulboucus, on duty at the Home office, proposed some exercises to the attendees and presented them a case. These exercises allowed every attendee to understand the importance of using multidisciplinary team work as a methodology tool for assessing personal, legal, social and psychological profile of individuals.

Therefore, this training event offered an occasion to better examine and improve specific professional competences in identifying and assessing risk profiles, in accordance with the target set in the Rasmorad Prison & Probation project.



As scheduled, the workshop was followed by a visit to a Belgian prison.


Visit to the Beveren Prison

The Beveren Prison, which is two hours distance from Brussels, was completed in October 2013 and became operational in February 2014. This prison was built in a modern and innovative way focusing mainly on the preparation for rehabilitation of prisoners. The prison complex is composed of four large buildings: the entrance building; the building in which all services (offices, sport centre, visit area, transit and entrance sections for prisoners, office for transfers and courtroom for hearings) are concentrated; the prison building composed of four twin departments which, in turn, include three concentric sections, one for each floor, and are placed around a central cabin for remote supervision and monitoring; the work house. Prison rooms are mainly single rooms and only few of them are double. Each department has its own isolation rooms, separated from the other rooms. There are two courtyards for having walks and a green area. Both the courtyards are equipped with a system which prevents helicopters from landing. The wall around the complex is protected by a system which prevents prisoners from climbing over (we did not verify its functioning).

The places for visits are large and well-lighted and also include a green area. There is also a space for children to play. We were told that (four) rooms for intimate encounters are provided and each prisoner may book them on a monthly basis. A room is reserved for visits with the entire family, in which it is possible to have a meal together. There are also two places where visits between a prisoner and a family member can take place with the two parties being separated by glass partitions; this procedure applies to prisoners in isolation for disciplinary reasons.

The prison accommodated 312 detainees (maximum capacity of this prison) on the day of the visit. The monitoring staff counts 206 members. They are civilians, wearing a uniform and working on three 8-hours shifts as scheduled. There are also a director and seven vice-directors in Beveren, each in charge of dealing with a specific field. The treatment staff is composed of social service workers and psychologists.

The federal government of Belgium opted for public-private partnership (Design, Build, Finance and Maintain -DBFM) to build and manage the Beveren Prison. In 25 years’ time, when the agreement is expired, the prison will become property of the federal government. The private enterprise also manages canteen and laundry services, employing detainees, whose number is below expectations. The enterprise is clearly in charge of routine maintenance of the complex and its green areas, using its own staff.

When detainees start working, their prison regime changes. Working prisoners are regarded as reliable prisoners, therefore, once they start working, they are transferred into one of the two open-regime departments. In these departments, leisure activities are organised, and prisoners are allowed to socialise in the other prison rooms within the same department only. Activities are scheduled in time slots. When we entered the prison, around 5 p.m., all sections were closed.

The prison includes four large pavilions where working prisoners are engaged in activities commissioned by private enterprises. The CELLMADE national program involves specially-made agreements executed by the penitentiary administration together with private entrepreneurs for carrying out working activities within prison settings. During the visit, we were told that one of the commission is executed with the local hospital for the washing and ironing of bedsheets and medical coats. We also witnessed the packaging process and cardboard box production by prisoners.

The Beveren Prison introduced an innovative IT system which allows detainees to have an online access to prison services. Every room (except isolation rooms) is provided with a computer by which each prisoner may phone to their family, order products sold as supplementary food supplies, reserve a visit with the prison doctor or with the prison director, attend online training courses, be constantly informed about and sign up for activities taking place within the prison, and know about prison rules.

Professional training is guaranteed through the implementation of courses organised and managed by the penitentiary administration which deals with logistical support, materials and professional trainers for prisoners.

As regards to prisoners involved in terrorist actions, that is, vulnerable to radicalisation, our colleagues shared few information. Upon their capture, the central penitentiary administration assigns prisoners to a certain prison in light of the initial risk assessment. The office dealing with assignments and monitoring is CELEX, including social service workers and psychologists. The prisons accommodating these detainees shall send an updated behavioural assessment note on a quarterly basis.

We would like to remind that the Belgian penitentiary administration uses VERA 2, that is VERA updated version.


  • FUTURE ACTIVITIES (October/December 2017)


About research

 The researcher from the Syracuse Institute introduced to and shared with the partner countries’ attendees the structure and contents of the questionnaire which all of us will receive and fill in on 2nd October and send back by 20th so that she can carry out a comparative analysis.

The two days of workshop highlighted how the development of a common risk assessment tool should be implemented through the Structured Professional Judgment (SPJ) method and that a non-measurable assessment is not objective and hardly comparable.

By analysing the tools currently used (information collected by the above-mentioned questionnaire), the researcher will carry out a comparison among methods, suggesting some integrations as, for example:

  • allowing the prison worker to introduce prisoner’s profile with more details so that changes over time may be identified;
  • ensuring the access to every useful source of information and verifying its reliability;
  • carrying out risk assessment not only upon access to prison but also in later stages and repeatedly over time so to detect potential behavioural changes;
  • duly taking into account the context in which the assessment is carried out as it influences judgment.


The thematic areas, which will be better explored thanks to the questionnaire, are introduced, discussed and approved by all project partners and summarised in a PowerPoint (see annex 8).


About project activity planning

By verifying the time schedule with the director of the Syracuse Institute, it was possible to confirm that the program follows a consistent timeline. According to this program, the next meeting will be organised by the Bulgarian penitentiary administration from 22nd to 24th November in Sofia, and the thematic workshop about de-radicalisation will be planned by the Romanian penitentiary administration in Bucharest on 11th December.

We would like to remind that:

  • the report concerning the collection and analysis of “best practices exchange” will be shared with all partners by April 2018 (the French penitentiary administration is the responsible coordinator);
  • the creation of the “common risk assessment tool” will be shared by September 2018 (the Syracuse Institute is responsible for creating this methodological tool)


Rome, 18th September 2017