Kamel Al-Khatti, Saudi Writer and Researcher
The General Directorate of Investigation in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia implements the “Binaa” care and rehabilitation program for Shiite detainees whose sentences are about to end. So far, little has been known about this program, the efforts of those in-charge, and the quantity and type of resources employed to ensure its success.
Binaa was launched in 1434 A.H. (2014 A.D.) as a unit dedicated to detainees of the Al-Ahsa and Al-Qatif Governorates who were involved in politically motivated violence. Binaa is a part of the Munasaha [Advisory Committee] program established by Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef.
Binaa has “graduated” 50 individuals, including 14 this year, I learned when meeting the management.
Binaa employs around 50 “non-security staff” specialists with expertise in disciplines including psychiatry, clinical psychology, sociology, mental health, social services, and medicine.
The Binaa structure includes a Quality Unit. This team is responsible for supporting the program in accordance with a scientific approach that assesses the program’s commitment to planned objectives.
Binaa Beneficiaries’ Rehabilitation Phases
The Binaa program has multiple and gradual phases, starting up to six months before joining, when the candidate is subjected to a comprehensive medical check-up and an accurate psychological evaluation to determine his or her suitability to join. If the conclusion is that the candidate is not ready, the program staff assist the candidate to reach the level that qualifies him or her to join.
Binaa staff work with the individuals’ families and surrounding societies to build a mutual relationship between them and their social environment, based on inducing a sincere desire not to dwell on the past and to change for the best.
On the other hand, the staff also work on the willingness of the families and social environment to accept the former detainees and not to dismiss them. Providing emotional and family support may contribute to accelerating their ability to break ties with the past and boost the desire to jump forward towards a new life in a transformation from politically motivated violence to being a productive member of society.
In addition to medical, psychological and social work, the Binaa program adopts a scientific approach that aims at revealing the knowledge, skills and abilities of participants. The program will also provide economic support to beneficiaries and their families if necessary.
The Binaa program framework goes beyond the walls of prison to the hotel where the individual and his or her family will spend two weeks before release in a form of effective community partnership, including medical care in hospitals and clinics, if required.
Furthermore, there are a number of private companies and establishments that provide vacancies for graduates of the program, so they will not be faced with rejection due to being a former convict. This matter is very critical, as family, emotional and functional stability will help people to adopt a new life style and encourage them to protect new income that supports a decent life, free of fear.
The program work does not stop when individuals have completed it and found a job. There is also a unit that specializes in following up on problems that may arise after release, analyzing issues and helping to overcome them.
There are a number of justified reasons for establishing a care and rehabilitation program for detainees as a civil component of the criminal justice system.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), an overarching forum of many countries worldwide. GCTF has strategic partnerships with most international organizations, most notably the UN.
GCTF has issued the Rome Memorandum, including non-binding recommendations on good practices for the rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders which can be applied by members.
The memorandum states: “In developing a successful rehabilitation program, the first questions that need to be answered are what the goals of this program, and how success can be defined and measured. Perhaps most important is defining from the outset whether the goal of the program is to change the views or merely the behavior of the inmates (Deradicalization vs. Disengagement).”
A rehabilitation effort that aims for disengagement alone is likely to be more successful in achieving its goals, but this approach may be less effective in the long-term in reducing the appeal of violent extremist ideologies and the potential for further violence and terrorism.
A second question for countries to consider, when appropriate, is whether the program will focus on lower and mid-level violent extremists or those in leadership positions – i.e. individual or collective disengagement – or both. Focusing on the leadership may have a more significant impact in the longer term, but may also be more difficult to achieve.
States can also consider establishing a broad set of metrics to gauge success, particularly those that help determine the longer-term effectiveness of the program. Recidivism has been the most commonly used statistic to judge the success of the programs. While this is clearly an important measure, there are several limitations. Not all re-offenders will be caught and prosecuted.
Prisons as a Safe Haven for Extremists
The Rome Memorandum and other memoranda published by the International Centre for Counter-terrorism (ICCT) – based in The Hague – states that prisons can be a “safe haven” for extremists and a potentially fertile ground for recruiting more people to politically motivated violence. The civil duties of the criminal justice system include efforts to reduce the likelihood that these individuals will return to violence and criminal life after their release.
In 2010, the Director of US National Intelligence (US-DNI) said that 20% of former Guantanamo-Bay detainees were suspected of returning to terrorist activity. The administration of former US President Barack Obama confirmed the validity of this statement. The US-DNI leads the American intelligence community, consisting of 17 agencies and intelligence organizations, all under the umbrella of the executive branch of the US federal government. This underlines the importance of running rehabilitation programs and working to integrate convicts with their social surroundings after they have served their sentences.
There are also financial reasons for countries to adopt programs aimed at keeping ex-offenders out of criminal activity and helping them to reposition themselves elsewhere in life after release.
For example, in a 2002 UK report titled “Reducing Re-offending by Ex-prisoners” by the Social Exclusion Unit, a unit established in 1997 and placed under the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), notes that “re-offending by ex-prisoners costs the British economy £11 billion in one year.”
The report concluded with a series of vital recommendations, starting with the suggestion that the UK Government should plan and run a national strategy for the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners and help them not to return to criminality, using the facts contained in the report as a guide. All concerned government bodies and departments should contribute to the implementation of this national strategy; the report argued, under the leadership of the Home Office.
In this context, it is noteworthy and impressive that the Binaa care and rehabilitation program in the Eastern Province has not seen any re-offending cases or relapse since its launch four years ago. By contrast, the overarching Munasaha program has experienced cases of re-offending that required a review of the whole program. The record of the “Binaa” program has not been set by chance alone, and the cases of relapse and failure suffered by in the Munasaha program are also no coincidence.
While learning about the Binaa program, I noticed that it did not rely on clerics, but on qualified academics, who are able to diagnose issues and propose solutions in accordance with scientific methodologies. The program also includes “non-security staff” specialists from the Al-Ahsa and Al-Qatif governorates. In addition to their qualifications, they belong to the same social context, and this is a significant advantage. I believe that local figures familiar with the social context are better able to understand some issues and problems where scientific qualifications alone may not be sufficient.
The Munasaha program has instead been dominated by clerics. They can acquire specialized knowledge, like an encyclopedic intellectual who may be admired for the diversity of his knowledge, but will not be best placed to perform a job that requires careful introspection. Therefore, I see the feasibility of benefiting from the success achieved by the “Binaa” program by utilizing its best practices to boost the success rate of the broad Munasaha program.