By Keiran Hardy
This brief is based on the following paper: Hardy, K. (2020). A crime prevention framework for CVE. Terrorism and Political Violence, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09546553.2020.1727450
What problem does your research address?
Programs for countering violent extremism (CVE) have become a core component of national counter-terrorism strategies, but there is a lack of clarity around what CVE is and how the programs should be designed (Gielen, 2017; Mastroe, 2016). In this paper, I explore how theories of crime prevention can help researchers and policymakers understand the complex CVE environment.
CVE is a diverse policy space involving community-based projects, arts and cultural activities, interventions for youth at risk of radicalisation, prison deradicalisation programs, and efforts to counter extremist content online. Aspects of crime prevention theory, including situational and developmental approaches, provide a coherent framework for understanding the different components of CVE.
Why is this significant?
Countering terrorist ideology and radicalisation is crucial to preventing terrorist attacks, which cost innocent lives. However, CVE programs are poorly understood, both conceptually and practically. Different countries take very different approaches, and terms like ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ can mean many different things (Hardy, 2018). It is not clear which components of CVE are likely to be most effective in reducing risks of terrorism, or even how the effectiveness of programs should be measured (Mastroe, 2016). Partly, this is because terrorism researchers lack the kinds of detailed data that criminologists can usually collect. The lack of data in counterterrorism is due to national security concerns about sharing information between industry and researchers, but also because terrorism is far rarer in Australia compared to other types of crime.
Despite these difficulties, understanding CVE as a collection of crime prevention strategies will give greater clarity and coherence to an uncertain policy space. Well-established ideas in criminology – such as situational, developmental and community-based prevention – can provide a common, recognised framework for researchers to understand and evaluate CVE efforts.
This is significant theoretically because it improves on current understandings of CVE as a form of public health prevention. Currently, the public health model of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention is seen as the best fit for understanding CVE programs globally (Harris-Hogan, Barrelle & Zammit, 2016). In this paper, I argue that crime prevention is more ‘fit for purpose’ as a theoretical framework for CVE, and that crime prevention concepts capture more accurately the nature of CVE in practice.
How did you conduct your research?
The paper begins by categorising the different components of CVE – including interventions for at risk youth, prison deradicalisation programs, and community engagement efforts. It then critiques the idea that these approaches should be understood as a form of public health prevention. The paper works through key aspects of crime prevention theory – beginning with situational prevention, then developmental prevention, community crime prevention, procedural justice policing and third-party policing. It combines these theories together in a holistic conceptual framework for understanding CVE.
What are your major findings?
My major finding is that crime prevention theory, which has a long history in criminology, has much to offer researchers and policymakers in terms of how CVE should be understood and how the programs should be designed. For example, the significant evidence base supporting situational approaches suggests that efforts to counter online extremism will be effective if they make posting extremist propaganda more difficult and more risky, with less rewards. In addition, procedural justice policing should form a core aspect of CVE because it involves building trust between police and communities. This is particularly important in counter-terrorism because there is a significant body of evidence suggesting that Muslim communities feel ‘under siege’ from coercive policing measures, government policy, and a wide range of counterterrorism powers and offences (Murphy, Madon & Cherney, 2017).
What does your research mean for policy and practice?
Crime prevention offers policymakers and practitioners a common language for discussing CVE, which is otherwise fraught with confusion. In addition, crime prevention concepts will aid researchers in conducting more criminological research into CVE. The field of criminology can make a significant contribution to CVE research, yet most research in counterterrorism is conducted by political scientists. The more that criminologists can help to understand terrorism, extremism, and how governments should respond, the more likely it is that CVE efforts will lead to better outcomes.
Gielen, A. (2017). Countering violent extremism: A realist review for assessing what works, for whom, in what circumstances, and how? Terrorism and Political Violence, DOI: 10.1080/09546553.1313736.
Hardy, K. (2018). Comparing theories of radicalisation with countering violent extremism policy. Journal for Deradicalization, 15, 76-110.
Harris-Hogan, S., Barrelle, K., & Zammit, A. (2016). What is countering violent extremism? Exploring CVE policy and practice in Australia. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 8(1), 6-24.
Mastroe, C. (2016). Evaluating CVE: Understanding the recent changes to the United Kingdom’s implementation of Prevent. Perspectives on Terrorism, 10(2), 50-60.
Murphy, K., Madon, N.S., & Cherney, A. (2017). Promoting Muslims’ cooperation with police in counter-terrorism: The interaction between procedural justice, police legitimacy and law legitimacy. Policing: An International Journal, 40(3), 544-559.