Treatment of Violent Extremist Offenders in Sweden: the Entré programme

Violent extremist offenders (VEOs) is a group of offenders that constitutes a special challenge for correctional services. The demands for security, whilst in prison, ask for special arrangements, but safety and security whilst in probation after release also call for effective interventions to reduce the risk of new crimes motivated by radicalised views and activities. This article is a presentation of a new Swedish effort to include systematic treatment for the transition of VEOs from prison to community.

The Swedish strategy

The Swedish Prison and Probation Service (SPPS) has come up with a counter-radicalisation strategy combining security efforts with intensive treatment to improve transition to community for identified VEOs that are at risk for future violent behaviour and associations with persons and environments supporting violent extremism. This include keeping proper order and security, treating prisoners, parolees and probationers with dignity and respect, as well as providing directed services and programmes to lay pathways away from violent extremism where the radicalised person ideally distances him/herself from past radicalised lifestyle and violent acts.

The Entré Programme

To process VEO’s personal barriers to change and strengthen skills needed to establish a meaningful lifestyle outside extremist environments, we use an offender treatment programme called Entré. The name of the programme is carefully chosen to illustrate that it is not only about leaving an old lifestyle, but primarily about beginning a new way of life, establish new associates and, in some cases, adopt a new identity. Entré is a one-to-one cognitive-behavioural programme developed within the SPPS, originally designed to support clients to leave organised criminal groups or environments.

The client and therapist meet each other in person. An Entré therapist is not supposed to be an expert in the specific ideology or religion and does not challenge or discuss right or wrong in the viewpoints the client hold. Relying on the principle of disengagement, interventions should, from ethical and humane points of views, not focus on changing radicalised views, but the use of violence or other criminal acts and support the person’s own efforts to distance him/herself from radicalised groups and environments. The therapist meets the client within the frame of a professional relationship, where the client is the main expert on his life and his mental world. The role of the therapist is to show how the client’s thoughts and behaviours have resulted in problems and supply the client with alternative perspectives and behaviours that increases his possibilities to lead a constructive life.

Criminogenic Needs and Themes in Entré

Entré is structured around themes that address criminogenic needs of violent offenders. The structure and content of the Entré programme (themes and treatment strategies) are primarily aimed towards history of aggression & violence, interpersonal relations & associates, attitudes and values, and identity & self-image. These areas of criminogenic needs are connected to the degree of exposure for high risk situations, emergence of thoughts supporting violence and disturbing feelings that are difficult to handle as well as the actual performance of violent acts. The work on themes and treatment strategies of the Entré programme are therefore aimed to help support the client to

  1. Avoid future exposure to high risk situations;
  2. Decrease dysfunctional interpretation and experiences in high risk situations;
  3. Change or manage emotions associated with high risk situations;
  4. Expand the behaviour repertoire and make it more flexible to make alternative prosocial behaviours to violent or criminal acts available to the client.

A distinctive feature of Entré is it’s components of practical problem-solving that aims to overcome real-life barriers and thereby facilitate leaving radicalised environments and associates. The client’s prosocial skills and other personal resources will be the vehicles to find solutions to overcome these barriers.

Individual Case Formulation

Treatment always starts with a thorough analysis of the structured risk and needs assessment that have been conducted. Although there are risk and need factors that are common among VEOs, how these factors are expressed varies from person to person. For instance, a VEO that was leading a lonely life and was radicalised mainly by internet activities, like social media will probably have different problems  regarding interpersonal relations and associates, compared to a VEO that has been radicalised together with other gang members at the local community. The next step in the assessment is therefore to get a more detailed picture of the idiographic pattern of strengths, barriers and opportunities in and around the client. This information will be the basis for an individual case formulation, a plan for how to transfer to the post-release social environment can be successful.

Supervision Team

To support a client in challenging violent attitudes and values and dare to choose another way of living  team work. Around the therapist, who is always carefully chosen from competence and personal suitability, there is a multidisciplinary team of supervisors. These have expertise in offender treatment, psychology and psychiatric disorders, security and transfer to community. Their job is to assist the therapist, but also to ensure that necessary decisions regarding the execution of the sentence are taken to ensure that the treatment could be administered efficiently. The supervision group also handles cooperation with other authorities and organisations that are needed for safe and secure transition into community.

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