Reviews # 2 and # 3

Programs that Aim to Prevent Violent Radicalization & Disengage Individuals Adhering to Violent Radical Ideas/Behaviors

In the last two decades, terrorist attacks have become more globalized, affecting multiple societies around the world. The public, as well as deciders and policymakers, have become more fearful of potential attacks, justifying an investment in efforts to counter radicalization and violent extremism.

As a response, prevention/intervention programs have been implemented throughout the world. 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. Simultaneously, the success or failure of most prevention/intervention programs largely remains a matter of opinion rather than of evidence.

For example, in the United States alone, around 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 were also directed towards programs that aim to prevent the radicalization of vulnerable populations and rehabilitate individuals already on a path towards radicalization.

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 effects is particularly important to prevention and intervention programs, as they are entrenched in ideological conflicts.

Currently, practitioners are relying on the local expertise and case-by-case results to design prevention/intervention programs. Despite the clear benefits of a rapid response such as this one, 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 will conduct two systematic reviews that address the following questions:

  • Are prevention/intervention 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/intervention efforts?

Because preliminary evidence suggests that prevention and intervention programs have diverging ranges of outcomes, the CPN-PREV research team decided to treat them in two separate reviews.