What we’ve learned from our research into the prevention of youth radicalisation

Over the last 3 years Khulisa has had the honour of working with 18 partners across 7 EU countries to construct & test an innovative, policy and practice intervention aimed at preventing radicalisation. During the course of the Youth Empowerment and Innovation Project we engaged with 3540 individuals in 7 countries aged between 16 and 78 to capture their attitudes and knowledge about radicalisation while testing innovative tools aimed at addressing violent radicalisation through positive psychology and the application of the Good Lives Model with 354 practitioners & 195 policy makers.

Earlier this year, the project’s findings were launched at The YEIP International Conference “Addressing Violent Youth Radicalisation in Europe”, hosted by the University of East London’s School of Psychology.

We discussed the general findings of the project in a previous blog. In this one, we wanted to share some of Khulisa’s findings.

 

Introduction

The Youth Empowerment and Innovation Project sought to create a toolkit on how to prevent radicalisation in young people by drawing on asset-based concepts like: The Good Lives Model (GLM), positive psychology and restorative justice.

Khulisa’s involvement in this project was a natural progression of our previous work with the project convenors, the Independent Academic Research Students International Institute (IARS). In 2015 the RJ4All International Institute conducted an impact evaluation of Khulisa’s flagship ‘Silence the Violence’ (STV) programme in prisons and found that only 7% of STV participants reoffend compared to 31% recidivism rate amongst thecontrol group.

At the heart of our programmes was intensive and trauma-informed group work, aligned to GLM, including creative facilitation (art, drama, and storytelling) and other experiential techniques (restorative circles, reflective practice). Our programme encourages participants to explore their thought processes (thoughts, feelings, body sensations and unmet needs) and provides participants with tools to help develop emotional literacy and emotional resilience; enhancing confidence, self-worth and self-belief to help participants envisage a safe, healthy and crime-free life.

The success of the STV programme, added to existing literature on the practical examples of how a GLM aligned approach can add value to the justice system & served as a foundation to the thinking behind the YEIP project.

Building the foundations:

The first work package of the project consisted of research on the use of justice measures which adopt the GLM, positive psychology and restorative justice to prevent and/or reduce the violent radicalisation of young people in Europe.

In conducting this research we found the prevalence of what was termed in the literature as “the false exceptionalism of radicalisation,” or the idea that radicalisation has entirely separate drivers from general crime.

At a foundation level, we know that like (re)offending, violent radicalisation is at once a cause, effect and indicator of social exclusion.14 It’s linked to many accentuating factors that contribute to social exclusion like a lack of access (e.g. to social mobility, education, health services, housing) a lack of fair recognition (due to discrimination, hostility, stigmatisation and segregation) and other personal intensifiers (like a negative lifestyle, poor mental health, low levels of engagement with education and a subjective sense of exclusion from ‘mainstream society’).

With this as a context, and given the success of GLM, positive psychology and restorative justice in offender rehabilitation we argued that YEIP was correct in extending the use of these theories to the conversation on how we can reduce violent radicalisation. The next step was for us to test this hypothesis.

Testing the hypothesis - Training professionals

For this phase of the project we trained professionals using tools and techniques that drew upon asset-based approaches to preventing radicalisation.

At Khulisa In conducting this research, we found a great need for training among professionals working in the criminal justice system on how to prevent violent youth radicalisation.

For example, before the training, some professionals were not familiar with some of the asset-based theories which underpin YEIP: 42% of professionals had either never heard of positive psychology or had heard of it but did not know much about it, 60% of professionals said the same about the Good Lives Model.

Despite this, we found that practitioners shared many of the project’s underlying principles as evidenced in their responses to statements which stifled youth voice and participation. 71% of professionals disagreed with the statement that “ young people should listen carefully to professionals’ advice on radicalisation. As a consequence, not much importance should be given to the past.”

Professionals disagreed even more with the “I do not feel comfortable empowering young people too much when I have to engage in a professional relationship with them” (85% of professionals disagreed). We also found that professionals were more likely to agree with asset-based solutions to dealing with young people who commit violent acts which suggests some support for the YEIP’s call for a shift from the currently wide-spread punitive approach to reducing (re)offending and radicalisation towards models like restorative justice, positive  psychology and the Good Lives Model.

Asset-based approaches work!

Throughout each of the countries involved in the project, training the professionals on how to use asset-based approaches in their work had a marked, positive, effect on the wellbeing and resilience levels of the young people they worked with.

We found an increase in 5 of the 6 wellbeing measures we were examining among prisoners who worked with professionals trained as part of this project. Similar increases were also true for the evaluation which looked at resilience.

These results suggest promise & we recommend that they should be tested in bigger groups given all we know about the link between improved social & emotional skills and improved life outcomes.

Our recommendations

The findings of this research that focused on the piloting of YEIPs policy measure in the criminal justice system supports calls for a shift from punitive methods to reducing violent radicalisation to more asset based models to offender rehabilitation and the prevention of violent radicalisation.

Our research also highlighted a critical need for training on practical ways of preventing and reducing violent radicalisation in the criminal justice system.

With this as a context, we join the call for a whole system investment to support a dual approach to preventing and reducing violent radicalisation of young people:

  • Providing asset-based support aimed at improving the social and emotional wellbeing of young people in schools, prisons and in universities and;
  • Providing training for staff working with young people in the criminal justice system, in schools and universities on asset-based approaches to preventing violent radicalisation.

Whilst there are clear benefits with this approach, with the current lack of investment in the criminal justice system (and other areas of this research project like schools and universities), it seems likely that this type of training and support remains unavailable which exacerbates the problem of violent radicalisation still further.

This is why we believe a systemic approach that supports both professionals and young people is critical to stem the volume of young people continuing to enter the criminal justice system and struggle to rehabilitate back into society.

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