Key findings

  • Assessment tools and intervention programmes have been developed based on established risk-need-responsivity principles and desistance theory.
  • However, there is little robust evidence on the direct impact of interventions used with extremist offenders. Those receiving interventions need to feel safe and secure, and staff need ongoing supervision and support.
  • Given the nature and sensitivity of cases involving extremist and terrorist offenders, decisions on how risks will be best managed will always benefit from a multi-agency response.


Terrorist offenders use violence and threats of violence to publicise their causes and as a means to achieve their goals. These groups and individuals are often inspired by extremist ideologies, for example, Islamism Extremism (IE), Right Wing Terrorism (RWT) and Left, Anarchist and Single-Issue Terrorism (LASIT). Recent high-profile reviews and incidents have increased the public focus on the management of terrorist offenders in the community.

The Government’s Counter Terrorism Prevent strategy has three key objectives:

  • tackle the causes of radicalisation and respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism
  • safeguard and support those most at risk of radicalisation through early intervention, identifying them and offering support
  • enable those who have already engaged in terrorism to disengage and rehabilitate.

The Channel programme forms part of the Prevent strategy. It is an initiative that provides a multi-agency approach to support people vulnerable to the risk of radicalisation. Channel uses a multi-agency approach to:

  • identify individuals at risk
  • assess the nature and extent of that risk
  • develop the most appropriate support plan for the individuals concerned.

The success of Channel is dependent on the cooperation and coordinated activity of partners. It works best when individuals and their families engage and are supported consistently. The video below, produced by Let’s Talk About It, provides more information about the programme.

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Since April 2017, the Joint Extremism Unit (JEXU), a joint unit between the Home Office and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), has provided a strategic centre for counter-terrorism work in prisons and probation. It was set up to advise prisons in England and Wales on how to deal with specific threats, as well as instruct and train prison and probation staff on how best to deter individuals from being lured into extremism.

Key statistics are as follows:

  • in the year ending 31 March 2020, there were 6,287 referrals to Prevent. This is an increase of 10 per cent compared to the record low in the previous year (5,737)
  • of the 697 new Channel cases in the year ending 31 March 2020, the most common referrals were for concerns regarding right-wing radicalisation (302; 43 per cent), followed by Islamist radicalisation (210; 30 per cent)
  • on 31 March 2021, there were 215 persons in custody for terrorism-connected offences in Great Britain. Of those in custody, the vast majority (73 per cent) were categorised as holding Islamist-extremist views. A further 20 per cent were categorised as holding Extreme right-wing ideologies
  • a total of 40 prisoners held for terrorism-related or terrorism-connected offences were released from custody in Great Britain in the year ending 31 December 2020.

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act (2021) introduced a minimum 14 year custodial sentence for specified offences, an end to early release for those who receive Extended Determinate Sentences, and tougher monitoring for terrorists on licence.

Summary of the evidence


Two main tools are currently being used in the assessment and identification of extremist offenders: Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ (ERG 22+), and Extremism Risk Screening. These assessments are carried out by HMPPS trained psychologists or probation practitioners.

The ERG 22+ is a risk assessment tool for analysing the risks, needs, and vulnerabilities to be managed to prevent offending. The tool assesses 22 factors of radicalisation categorised into engagement, intention and capability. HMPPS assessed the tool’s inter-rater reliability in both research and field settings. Although in the field setting the results were ‘moderate’ to borderline ‘good’, the specific weakness was in the ‘intent’ domain. The difference between the research setting and field results led the authors to recommend further assessor training and also a better definition of the items.

Interventions and programmes

There are a lack of robust impact studies to identify which interventions are most effective at preventing extremist offending. The Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) has highlighted the challenges of assessing the success of interventions such as deradicalisation programmes, as the complexity and diverse nature of extremist motivations makes it difficult to create broad evaluation measures.

It is important that those receiving interventions in a prison and/or probation setting feel safe and secure, as taking part in deradicalisation programmes can lead to threats from those still committed to the cause. Practitioners need specific skill sets, and the need for ongoing supervision and support for staff has also been identified.

Healthy Identities Intervention

In 2018, the Ministry of Justice published a process evaluation of the Healthy Identities Intervention (HII) and Motivational and Engagement Intervention (MEI) pilots (bespoke 1:1 accredited interventions for use with convicted Terrorism Act (TACT) and TACT-related offenders). MEI and HII sought to integrate well-established theoretical approaches to rehabilitation, including the Risk-Need-Responsivity principles, the Good Lives Model and desistance theory.

Find out more about the well-established models and principles

The evaluation consisted of interviews with 22 intervention participants and 22 facilitators who delivered the programmes. The findings were generally encouraging, with both facilitators and participants viewing them positively. Participants noted some repetition within and between HII and MEI, leading to them being combined into a single intervention (HII). The combined intervention was accredited and implemented nationally. HMPPS is currently developing an impact evaluation of HII to explore outcomes over the longer term and across national delivery.

Desistance and Disengagement Programme

The Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP), launched in October 2016, aims to ‘provide a range of intensive tailored interventions and practical support, designed to tackle the drivers of radicalisation around universal needs for identity, self-esteem, meaning and purpose; as well as to address personal grievances that the extremist narrative has exacerbated. Support could include mentoring, psychological support, theological and ideological advice’.

An initial pilot was confined to providing support to individuals on licence following conviction for a TACT or TACT-related offence. The programme expanded shortly afterwards to include those on Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures (TPIMs) and those who have returned from conflict zones and are subject to Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs).

There is currently no impact evaluation of this programme.

Developing Dialogues

Developing Dialogues is a toolkit to assist practitioners to work with those who appear to be vulnerable to, or are becoming engaged with extremism. This has been designed for use by practitioners working on a 1:1 basis. E-learning training is available for staff. The content of the Developing Dialogues toolkit is used to promote effective conversations with individuals when discussing and addressing extremism issues.

The role of the internet

A study published in 2021 found that the internet appeared to be playing an increasingly prominent role in radicalisation processes for those convicted of extremist offences in England and Wales, reflecting general trends of widespread internet use in today’s society. However, offline influences featured at least to some extent for most cases, suggesting extremist offenders generally operate across both domains.

It was further found that those who primarily radicalised online were the least identified with an extremist group or cause and the least willing and able to perpetrate violent extremist acts. They also tended to be socially isolated offline with higher rates of mental illness and personality disorder. It was thus highlighted how these individuals may require referral to and support from specialist mental health and/or personality disorder services, and/or may benefit from initiatives designed to increase their support network and access to social opportunities to reduce feelings of social isolation. In contrast, those considered highly engaged through online and offline influences may require more intensive rehabilitation efforts, including specifically addressing extremist beliefs/ideology.

Multi-agency cooperation

Given the nature and sensitivity of cases involving extremist and terrorist offenders, decisions on how risks will be best managed will always benefit from a multi-agency response. Cooperation among professionals is crucial before, during and after imprisonment, and there is a need to ensure that intelligence is shared. All agencies should be clear about the shared objectives and their roles and responsibilities, with a focus on both security and disengagement/desistance.

Key references

Basra, R. and Neumann, P. (2020). Prisons and Terrorism: Extremist Offender Management in 10 European Countries. London: International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

Dean, C., Lloyd, M., Keane, C., Powis, B. and Randhawa, K. (2018). Intervening with Extremist Offenders – A Pilot Study, Ministry of Justice Analytical Summary. London: Ministry of Justice.

Kenyon, J., Binder, J. and Baker-Beall, C. (2021). Exploring the role of the internet in radicalisation and offending of convicted extremists, Ministry of Justice Analytical Series. London: HM Prison and Probation Service.

Powis, B., Randhawa-Horne, K. and Bishopp, D. (2019). The Structural Properties of the Extremism Risk Guidelines (ERG22+): a structured formulation tool for extremist offenders, Ministry of Justice Analytical Series. London: Ministry of Justice.

Webster, A., Kerr, J. and Tompkins, C. (2017) A process evaluation of the structured risk guidance for Extremist Offenders, Ministry of Justice Analytical Series. London: HM Prison and Probation Service.

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Last updated: 22 October 2021