3rd Systematic review: Intervention

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.

In the last decade, growing concerns about extremist violence have led governments to make important efforts and invest significant sums of money in developing programs aimed at preventing and countering violent radicalization and extremism (PVE/CVE). This has been supported by a variety of actors and organizations outside the traditional national security sphere, including the mental health, education, and community sectors. The inclusion of new approaches, strategies, and stakeholders has led to an unprecedented shift in prevention—a field which, until then, was dominated primarily by traditional security approaches and often led by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Despite the efforts and investments, current knowledge regarding best practices in prevention remains disparate, and the effectiveness of practices being used has not yet been clearly established. This means that currently, trillions of dollars are being invested worldwide in programs whose efficacy and possible side effects are unknown.

This is especially true in the case of tertiary prevention programs, i.e., those that aim to deradicalize individuals, disengage them from extremist groups, and reintegrate them into society. In 2010, Horgan and Braddock concluded that a) no systematic effort had been made to analyze such programs or initiatives; b) there were no explicit criteria for what was considered a successful outcome; and c) despite the widely publicized success of these programs by certain governments, little data existed that could independently corroborate this success. This means that available information regarding the effectiveness of tertiary prevention programs remains to be a matter of informed opinion rather than clear empirical evidence. In addition, many studies claim to be “evaluations” despite not meeting the basic standards expected of such types of studies. This is a serious issue because the implementation of prevention programs, without adequate knowledge about their potential outcomes and impact, may ultimately be counterproductive, stigmatizing, and lead to greater harms than benefits.

To address this knowledge gap, CPN-PREV conducted a systematic review of the literature on the effectiveness of tertiary prevention programs in the field of violent radicalization. The goals of our systematic review were as follows:

  • To describe the outcomes of tertiary PVE programs in terms of reducing the risk of violent radicalization;
  • To identify specific program modalities associated with a higher chance of success or failure for the targeted populations;
  • To assess the quality of the literature in order to identify knowledge gaps and studies that should be given more (or less) weight in the interpretation of results; and
  • To formulate preliminary recommendations for program providers, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers working in the field of PVE.

The review aimed to provide a reliable, trusted, and valid knowledge base for the development of evidence-based guidelines that would speak to practitioners, researchers, and deciders from multiple sectors.