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Report warns of Islamist ‘time bomb’ in French prisons

Matthieu Alexandre | Fresnes priosn, near Paris, where a trial scheme launched in October 2014 saw inmates with radical Islmaist beliefs held apart from other inmates

A French government policy of grouping together and isolating radical Islamist inmates in prisons is “potentially dangerous” and risks creating a “time bomb”, the country’s independent prisons authority has warned.

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In a report published Tuesday, Adeline Hazan, France’s controller general for prisons, said the policy could lead to those with less extreme views becoming influenced by some of the more radical prisoners they are confined with.

"The grouping facilitates proselytism. There is a risk of exacerbation and a snowball effect,” she said in the report. “We risk creating time bombs.”

France has been separating radical Islamist inmates from the rest of the prison population at certain detention facilities since October last year, when a pilot scheme was launched at Fresnes Prison just south of Paris.

Under the trial scheme, 22 prisoners identified as having radical Islamist beliefs were held together in a separate part of the prison, where it was hoped they would be unable to influence and potentially radicalise other prisoners.

Plans were made to extend the scheme to four other prisons in January in the wake of terror attacks in Paris, after it merged that two of the perpetrators, Amedy Coulibaly and Chérif Kouachi, had been inmates together in Fleury-Mérogis Prison, near Paris.

"It's like with radioactive waste," a French magistrate told Reuters at the time. "You either disperse it or you contain it in an ultra-secure site. There is always a risk of radioactivity, but this could allow for better risk management. "

‘Widely disparate levels of radicalisation’

But far from stopping the spread of radicalisation, the new scheme could be promoting it, said Hazan, whose report was based on months of interviews with inmates, guards and prison wardens at Fresnes as well as lawyers, judges and members of the intelligence services.

Part of the problem, Hazan found, was that some of the “radicalised” inmates being held together had significantly more extreme beliefs than others.

“The consolidation of radicalised inmates poses risks that do not seem to have been taken into account, including the cohabitation of prisoners exhibiting widely disparate levels of radicalisation,” said Hazan’s report.

She also said that prison authorities at Fresnes had not observed any “calming effect” on the rest of the prison population since the measure was introduced.

Meanwhile, those who had been separated “for the most part expressed their fear of being labelled in the long term as Islamist radicals and of not being able to rid themselves of the influence of their fellow inmates,” Hazan said in her report.

In a radio interview earlier this year, Prime Minister Manuel Valls estimated that around 1,400 of a total of 66,000 inmates in French prisons are thought to have extremist tendencies.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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