There is considerable international interest in programs that seek to rehabilitate and reintegrate violent extremist offenders (VEOs) and prevent prisoners from becoming radicalized. There are a number of reasons for this interest, including the high social and political impact of terrorism, ongoing concerns about prisons and prisoners being especially vulnerable to radicalization to violent extremism, accounts of VEOs who initially became interested in extremism while in prison, and the increasing numbers of incarcerated VEOs in certain states, many of whom will at some point be released into wider society. Identifying and designing so-called deradicalization or disengagement programs—or perhaps more appropriately risk reduction programs—that are proven to be impactful and understanding why remains a considerable challenge. So-called what-works principles underlying programs to prevent other forms of offending behavior have been established in the criminological and forensic psychological literature over recent decades. The key what-works principles are risk, need, and responsivity. In summary, programs should (1) target those who are deemed of higher risk of reoffending and of committing serious harm (risk principle), (2) target factors that directly contribute to offending (need principle), and (3) be delivered in a way and style that maximizes learning for individuals (responsivity principle). Programs that are in accord with all three principles have been found to be more effective than those that do not.

This policy brief provides a unique practitioners’ perspective on the application of so-called what-works principles, which underlie programs to prevent a variety of forms of offending behavior, to programs and interventions that aim to address violent extremism in prisons and probation. It presents a set of transparent working principles to improve the design and delivery of these programs that can hopefully be examined and tested over time to help refine our knowledge and understanding to prevent violent extremists from reoffending.

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