France is gearing up to release 40 radicalized prisoners in the coming months, a move which the country’s lead counter-terrorism prosecutor says is a “major risk,” as they could have become more radicalized behind bars.
Speaking to French broadcaster BFM TV, Francois Molins confirmed that France will be releasing around 20 radicalized prisoners this year and a further 20 in 2019, while warning about the dangers of such a move.
“There is a major risk of seeing people who are not at all repentant at the end of their sentence come out of prison, who could even be more radical given their stay in prison,” said Molins, who will soon leave his post after seven years as the head of France’s counter-terrorism prosecution service.
“We need to do a lot more talking to ensure that they are properly monitored which requires thorough work between the prison administration, the intelligence services, the prefectures, those working in the judicial system and the prosecutor’s office,” Molins added.
The release of the prisoners follows criticism of France’s ability to keep track of those who are on the country’s terror watch list, as some of them have gone on to commit terrorist attacks. For example, the man who killed one person and wounded four others with a knife in Paris earlier this month was reportedly on the list.
Molins’ worry that prisoners could become more radicalized in prison is a legitimate one, according to reports in the French press which say that more than 1,200 people who have been imprisoned for non-terrorism crimes have become radicalized while behind bars. Molins says prisons serve as “incubators” by allowing interactions to take place between radicalized and non-radicalized prisoners.
In an effort to combat that problem, the French government said in February that it would seal off extremists within prisons and open new centers to reintegrate jihadists into society. However, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe admitted at the time that “no one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalization’ as if you might de-install dangerous software.”
The fact that there is no magic formula means that France remains on high alert, a state it has been in since January 2015, when gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, including 12 at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In November of the same year, terrorist attacks killed 130 people in and around the French capital. All in all, more than 240 people have been killed by terrorism in the country over the past three years.
The prisoners due to be released are just some of the more than 500 people currently being held in French prisons for terrorism-related offenses, according to French media.