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Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System

By: | posted on: Jul 8, 2020

Date(s) - 07/08/2020
11:00 am - 12:30 pm

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Join ICSVE director Anne Speckhard, Yola Wanders, and Gaby Thijssen for a timely discussion of the Dutch terrorism rehabilitation program. 11am-12:30pm EDT

About this Event

Have you ever wondered what will happen with the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and those also held under terrorism charges in prisons around the world? Will we see them once again unleashed and still lethal or is it possible to rehabilitate and reintegrate a terrorist prisoner? In ICSVE’s first three Zoom events, panelists discussed the ins and outs of repatriating FTFs, rehabilitation and integration, and repatriating children. In this fourth panel, we will circle back to the question of whether or not a terrorist can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society by exploring the details and nuances of the Dutch program for imprisoned terrorist offenders. In the Netherlands, there are 40 terrorist prisoners currently serving time and the Dutch approach to attempting to rehabilitate them involves 150 detainees. Please join us to hear Yola Wanders, former director of the Dutch supermax and terrorism wing, and Gaby Thijssen, forensic psychologist specialized in violent extremism from the Netherlands, speak about their approaches to successfully turning terrorist prisoners away from terrorism, their methods of evaluation, and also the challenges they have faced where some prisoners are impossible to reach or change.

Join us Wednesday, July 8th at 11 am for the continuation of ICSVE’s Zoom panel series on repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS FTFs and their families, this time discussing the Dutch prison program as a case study.

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About the Speakers

Yola Wanders began her career in 1989 as a guard in the Penitentiary Institution of Hoogeveen. After filling various executive positions, she was appointed as a member of the board at the Prison in Veenhuizen in 2003. She transferred in 2009 to the Penitentiary Institution in Vught, with special attention for the very high security (Supermax) and terrorist departments (TD). Since 2012, she has been connected to the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), serving the first 4 years as chairman of the Prison & Probation (P&P) working group, then as a core member. Within the RAN Prison & Probation working group, Yola exchanged experiences with and between the various EU Member States. Within the Dutch prison system, she is closely involved in the policy of radicalization within prisons and in the development of the renewed day program for the terrorist departments (TD). The TD of Vught has been in operation since 2005. Currently, the TD has a capacity of 46 cells divided into 5 departments. There is a lot of criticism about the concentration of detainees who are suspected or convicted of a terrorist offence. Yola cannot deny that the concentration model has disadvantages, but it also offers advantages which she will discuss. New insights and experience have taught Yola that working within the TD with small-differentiated groups, creates the best results. A holistic approach and a positive living climate are also important conditions for human detention and especially with this target group to create meaningful contact to start a kind of a rehabilitative relationship. Without this basis, any initiative to deradicalization is doomed to fail.

Gaby Thijssen is an experienced Dutch forensic psychologist and researcher (Ph.D. student), specialized in radicalization and terrorism. She is working in the Dutch prison facility of Vught in the very high security (Supermax) and terrorist departments. She has practical experience in psychological assessment, risk assessment and treatment of violent and violent extremist offenders. She is closely involved in the Dutch policy of radicalization and ‘high risk inmates’ in prison facilities. Furthermore, she is the ‘attention-officer’ for radicalization. If there are signs of radicalization in the prison populations, she conducts an assessment and coordinates further interventions. She is also a member in advisory boards of practical projects related to terrorism and exit programs in the Netherlands and is a member in European working groups on terrorism.

Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of ICSVE has in-depth interviewed 240 ISIS prisoners, returnees and defectors, over half held in SDF territory who may at some point be returned to their home countries, viewed the abysmal conditions under which children of ISIS mothers live, and collected reports of the ISIS enforcers whose brutality continues inside these camps. Dr. Speckhard has worked with European and other countries on issues of repatriation of ISIS men, women and children held in SDF territory discussing, with the detainees’ full permission, their cases with their home justice authorities in order to bring them to face justice at home. Among these in-depth interviews she has interviewed nine Dutch male and female detainees, most who hope to return home at some point, knowing they will likely be prosecuted and imprisoned in the Dutch prison system. In 2006-2007, Dr. Speckhard wrote and designed the psychological portion and oversaw the Islamic Challenge portions of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program for the U.S. Department of Defense to be applied to the 23,000 detainees and 800 juveniles held by U.S. forces in Iraq at that time. She has also often consulted with government officials about prevention of and rehabilitation for foreign terrorist fighters. She will moderate the panel in a discussion addressing questions such as: What is the Dutch perspective on FTFs and repatriation? What is the view of terrorist rehabilitation under the Dutch justice system? How are Dutch people convicted on terrorist charges evaluated for their current levels of radicalization? What does treatment for Dutch people convicted on terrorist charges look like? How is the program in the Dutch terrorist prison evaluated?  What are some examples of successful terrorist treatment in the Dutch prison system? What are some examples of failed terrorist treatment in the Dutch prison system?  If and when Dutch people convicted on terrorist charges are released from prison, what is the process for reintegrating them into their communities? How does the treatment of Dutch people convicted on terrorism charges inform and impact community and law enforcement-based prevention and intervention efforts?  How is COVID-19 complicating all of these issues?

Please join us for this fourth discussion on these issues to be followed by many more. The panel will each speak briefly, and questions will be most welcome with a lively discussion to ensue! Questions can be posed using the Zoom chat feature or by Twitter to @ICSVE and the live chat will be published after the event.

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This is the fourth discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS foreign fighters. The first panel, Issues of ISIS Prisoners and Repatriations in a Time of COVID has been recorded and can be watched at The second panel, Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Repatriated into Society? has been recorded and can be watched at The third panel, Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children? has been recorded and can be watched at

The event will take place on Zoom at 11:00 am EDT:

New York 11:00

Los Angeles 08:00

Mexico City 10:00

London 16:00

Geneva 17:00

Amman 18:00

Addis Ababa 18:00

Bangkok 22:00

Sydney 01:00

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