2nd Systematic review: Prevention

Context & Objectives

The last two decades have witnessed increases in the number of extremist groups, hate incidents/crimes, and mass attacks that target specific racial, religious, gender minority, or political groups. These attacks have also become more globalized, affecting multiple societies around the world.

As a response, prevention programs have been implemented globally. This effort to counter violent radicalization has led to increased involvement of, and costs to, institutions outside national security including mental health and education sectors, as well as legal and prison systems. For example, in the United States alone, approximately 1 trillion dollars were invested in programs to counter terrorist activities between 2001 and 2011. Even though most of this sum was directed towards surveillance and security agencies, some funds were also directed towards programs that aim to prevent the radicalization of vulnerable populations. Although the swiftness with which these programs were developed and implemented is commendable, the limited timeframe also left very few opportunities to empirically assess their positive and negative outcomes. The issue of iatrogenic or negative effects is particularly important to prevention programs, as they are entrenched in ideological conflicts.

Currently, practitioners are relying on the local expertise and case-by-case results to design prevention programs. Despite the clear benefits of a rapid response, the rollout of these programs in the absence of integrated evidence regarding outcomes, transferability, and benefits to communities, may be counterproductive or even result in greater harm for the targeted populations. In order to inform policymakers and practitioners on what really works, the CPN-PREV team has conducted a systematic review that addresses the following questions:

  • Are prevention programs really able to counter violent radicalization?
  • Are there specific program modalities associated with a higher chance of success or failure?
  • What are the evidence-based recommendations for professionals involved in current and future prevention efforts?

Because preliminary evidence suggested that prevention and intervention programs have diverging ranges of outcomes, the CPN-PREV research team decided to treat them in two separate reviews. The current review focuses on prevention efforts, i.e., primary and secondary prevention programs.