by Liesbeth van der Heide and Bart Schuurman 

Terrorism remains a key security concern for societies across the globe, with threats ranging from returned foreign fighters who joined jihadist extremists in Syria or Iraq, ‘homegrown’ elements inspired by groups like Islamic State (IS), and internationally operating terrorist networks such as those responsible for the 2015 Bataclan attacks in France (EUROPOL, 2018; Miller, 2018). There is also the underappreciated but highly problematic rise of rightwing extremism and terrorism to contend with (Koehler, 2017b; Mudde, 2017).

Against this background, reintegration programs for terrorists and extremists are likely to remain a key element within states’ counterterrorism repertoires (Crelinsten, 2014). Such programs are not without the detractors, and a case can be made that the principal response to these issues should focus on criminal prosecution, not reintegration. However, given prosecutors’ difficulties with securing sufficient evidence for crimes committed in warzones to ensure lengthy prison sentences (Paulussen & Pitcher, 2018) reintegration initiatives are likely to continue to play a central role in efforts to minimize terrorism-related recidivism (Holmer & Shtuni, 2017).

Independent evaluations of these initiatives are a prerequisite for assessing and improving the design, implementation and effectiveness of reintegration efforts. The enduring scarcity of such assessments, particularly those based on first-hand information, remains a particularly pressing issue (Koehler, 2017a; Silke & Veldhuis, 2017; Sim, 2012; Soufan et al., 2010; Weeks, 2018). The complexity of the issues at stake, the obstacles surrounding the collection of first-hand data and the difficulties of measuring success, mean that considerable work remains to be done. This article contributes to the evidence-based literature on terrorist reintegration programs by detailing the results of a 27-month evaluation of a specialized reintegration initiative run by ‘team TER’ (Terrorism, Extremism and Radicalization) within the Dutch Probation Service (Reclassering Nederland, RN).

Using multiple rounds of interviews with team TER staff and partner agencies such as the Dutch police and public prosecution service, this article evaluates the development of the Dutch reintegration approach between January 2016 and April 2018. It builds on work by Schuurman and Bakker (2016), who evaluated the team’s first year of operations in 2012 and 2013. The central research question is to what extent team TER’s activities have contributed to a lower chance of recidivism among clients with an extremist or terrorist background. To address it, the evaluation first of all covers the soundness of the assumptions underlying the program’s theory of change, in the sense that it critically reflects on those assumptions by comparing them to the academic literature. Subsequently, the evaluation turns to the initiative’s practical implementation and provides a qualified impact assessment.

Click on the link to read the full report ‘Reintegrating Terrorists in the Netherlands: Evaluating the Dutch approach‘.

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