DS. That is a complex question. It questions prison more broadly, an institution always balancing the goal of security, which seems unwavering, with the democratic desire to support prisoners’ rights, normalise conditions of detention, and respect incarcerated persons.
Without giving my opinion on the compatibility of battling violent extremisms and respecting fundamental rights in prison, I need to point out that the existence of specific units for “radicalised” prisoners involves real risks in terms of the violation of fundamental rights – risks which are equally valid for all forms of detention, not just those reserved for “radicalised” prisoners. Let’s go back to the objectives that I named earlier. First, security. The widespread intensification of security measures, especially after attacks or killings in prison, feeds a system that distrusts and neutralises prisoners. In the assessment units, prisoners are often not only seen as people who have committed an illegal act (or are suspected of it), but also as “enemies.” Therefore, we observe a form of physical and social distancing, indeed isolation, which is not articulated. Extreme surveillance, which serves both security and prisoner profiling, limits normalised contact, requires significant self-control, and reinforces stigmas. Secondly, the evaluation process is constrained by several factors which are likely to skew the gaze so that it confirms the hypotheses of dangerousness and radicalisation.
First, we see the pervasive nature of the struggle against presumed concealment, which makes it impossible for the evaluators to discern the truth: the prisoner who presents as radicalised is radicalised, and the prisoner who exhibits good behaviour is exhibiting hidden radicalisation.
Then there is the persistent idea that prisoners are not placed in evaluation for no reason. Signs of radicalisation and incriminating evidence have a tendency to be overinterpreted. There is also an absence of risk to professionals and administrative managers. These factors combined have the effect of making a false positive preferable to a false negative in the final assessment. The third risk is linked to the efforts at deradicalisation. These are conducted by a series of professionals in the QER, especially by certain prison guards who are invested in the goal of pacifying the minds of prisoners and helping them reach a faith that is non-violent. This informal work is accomplished outside a regulated or structured framework and does not appear in the specifications or internal rules of the units. For better or for worse, it eludes institutional structures. The final point concerns the objective relating to intelligence: prison information agents themselves describe the QER as poor tools for producing information due to the limited period of incarceration and resulting partial observation, the strong security that restricts normal behaviours, and the massive information gathering that drowns out the most relevant information in a mass of data. The logic of invalid overinterpretation of multiple observations.
The information that comes from the intelligence services seems preponderant in decision-making, although even intelligence professionals are of the opinion that the apparatus does not allow for the production of reliable information.
As in the evaluation process, we can see a vicious circle. Prisoners are selected based on their prison profile, which is supplemented by a body of information, much of which comes from prison intelligence. Then that body of information is joined with observations made by professionals. This, combined with the absence of risk that presides over the final recommendations, always threatens to “identify” a dangerous individual by only including in observations those elements that can be interpreted as confirming the central hypothesis.
In conclusion, we must be attentive to the risk of unequal treatment between ordinary prisoners, on the one hand, and prisoners described as “radicalised,” on the other. The latter are regularly targeted with observation measures, surveillance, or monitoring, which can be detrimental to their rights and contribute to a differentiated treatment. Above all, it is an issue of transparency and use of prisons. Persons sentenced to prison are supposed to serve time to pay for their infraction, and people in pre-trial detention are supposed to be held while waiting for their trial. Here, it is not the case: “radicalised” prisoners are evaluated, gauged, profiled; sometimes, even before being judged. I am not saying that none of them are dangerous people, I am simply saying that we must be attentive to a form of upending the presumption of innocence.