Special Report | Does the Prevent strategy have any credibility left?

A groundbreaking report, published on Thursday by advocacy group CAGE, has revealed that the scientific framework underpinning the government’s counter extremism strategy is based on extremely flawed research, bolstering calls for the strategy to be scrapped. Dilly Hussain reports.

New in Ceasefire - Posted on Monday, October 3, 2016 15:32 - 0 Comments

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 (Source: The Guardian)

Children as young as three have been reported under the Prevent Duty programme. (Photo: The Guardian)

In July 2015, the British government introduced a statutory duty on all public sector workers, mandating them to spot the signs of “radicalisation” in children and adults, supposedly in order to stop those under their care from being “drawn into terrorism”. This, in turn, made it mandatory for all public sector workers, including teachers, doctors and other health care professionals to go through a two-hour Prevent-funded training programme to “help” them spot anybody vulnerable to the risk of extremism.

The Prevent training programme was based on 22 risk factors of “radicalisation”, which had been derived from a psychological assessment tool called the ‘Extremist Risk Guidance 22+’ (ERG22+). This assessment tool was developed – through a classified government prison study in 2010 based on qualitative research at the National Offenders Management Service (NOMS) – by two forensic psychologists and associate fellows of the British Psychological Society; Monica Lloyd, a senior lecturer at Birmingham University and Christopher Dean. In 2015, Lloyd and Dean published their findings in a niche journal in America, largely avoiding scrutiny of the scientific community in Britain.

ERG22+

Their findings, in the form of the ERG22+ assessment tool, were not only used as a key element of the Prevent programme to spot people at risk of being drawn into terrorism, but they were also used as the evidence base of the Channel Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) framework, a “deradicalisation” governmental programme aimed at providing support to individuals referred through the Prevent programme.

However, the new report, entitled, “The ‘science’ of pre-crime, the secret ‘radicalisation’ study underpinning Prevent” and published by CAGE on Thursday, has revealed that the evidence base of the ERG tool, which was pivotal in Prevent achieving statutory footing – through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act) – did not go through vigorous reliability tests and was not properly validated.

Most crucially, the CAGE report reveals that the government misled the public, deliberately hid key “scientific” data, and – more alarmingly – misappropriated the ERG assessment tool by applying it in the context of its counter extremism strategy even though the ERG was not developed to be a predictive tool to spot signs of radicalisation or extremism, nor was it developed as a “deradicalisation” tool to treat people outside of a prison environment.

Some of the key points highlighted in the report include concerns over the ERG22+ assessment tool being scientifically unverified, the ERG tool being used within a pre-criminal space despite not being developed for that purpose, a lack of credible peer review validation by psychologists to verify the validity of the original study used underpinning the Prevent programme, and a lack of replicated research supporting the ERG study; steps that, the report states, “should have been a precondition to the UK government using the findings as part of its Prevent and Channel policies.”

Safeguarding and ‘pre-crime’ theory

The CAGE report also highlights the fact that, while the ERG22+ was being applied under the pretence of safeguarding people from being drawn into violent extremism, the psychologists who developed the tool had themselves admitted, in their own research paper, that the sample base of their study included participants who never intended to perform, or contribute to, an act of terrorism.

Moreover, the Prevent strategy is using Lloyd and Dean‘s tool to predict whether people could be at risk of committing a terrorist attack despite the authors themselves confirming their assessment tool was not developed as a predictive tool.

One of the many significant criticisms found in the CAGE report was the admission from Lloyd and Dean that they had deliberately excluded political context as a driving factor of radicalisation, despite being advised to include it, something they admit was “perhaps an omission”.

Shockingly, the research paper from which CAGE produced their report includes a shocking admission from the authors who, despite their research having been placed on statutory footing through Prevent since 2015, declare they remain unsure about the reliability and validity of their own findings.

Lloyd and Dean have also claimed that the, “ERG is a work in progress”, which carries huge implications considering the assessment tool is applied in the real world by public sector workers who have had little or no training. This has, as the CAGE report mentions, led to an environment of over-reporting of individuals to the authorities, including that of children as young as three.

Prevent

This is greatly pertinent, in light of the revelation that of all the Prevent referrals made in 2015 to Channel based on the ERG22+ factors, only 7% required “supportive interventions”.  In other words, an astonishing 93% of all individuals referred to the Channel ‘de-radicalisation’ programme have been so wrongly.

Additionally, Lloyd and Dean claim in their research paper that their ERG tool “requires a level of professional judgment and experience to be effectively used”, yet public sector workers are expected to implement the ERG findings based on a two-hour Prevent training session.

A question that arises from this admission about the study’s lack of rigour is: Why was this tool implemented nationally, across the Prevent and Channel programmes, and extended into civil society, when its own authors had openly admitted to problems with its reliability and validity?

Astonishingly, despite acknowledging the major flaws of their study and admitting the ERGG22+ cannot be used as a predictive tool, both Lloyd and Dean have been boasting in their research publications that their assessment tool was being used by the British government.

In light of the findings of their report, CAGE have called on the Home Office to acknowledge that Prevent is a failed strategy that should be scrapped. They also called for a full independent investigation to establish how and why the ERG22+ assessment tool was incorporated into the Prevent and Channel programmes while questions remained about its validity and reliability.

CAGE have also asked the academic psychology community to call on the government to make the original study and its data sets available, so as to enable researchers and practitioners to properly scrutinise it, a step that ought to be welcomed by anyone interested in the openness and rigour of scientific research.

While the negative impact of the Prevent strategy has led to grave repercussions for the Muslim community in Britain, the implications of the CAGE findings on the psychology community in the UK could potentially be devastating, especially in the wake of revelations in a recently published US report of systemic collusion by a number of psychologists with the US government in the secret development of scientific tools aimed at facilitating the practice of torture on high value detainees held by the US.

What moral, legal or academic justifications does the Prevent programme have left? Did it ever have any legs to stand on in the first place, except the ones falsely manufactured onto to it by an anti-Muslim governmental agenda? The time is nigh for Britons from all walks of life to call for the total scrapping of this draconian policy, and to work collectively against the increasing securitisation of our society.

Dilly Hussain

Dilly Hussain is the deputy editor of British Muslim news site 5Pillars. He is also a political blogger for the Huffington Post, a features writer for Al Jazeera English specializing in human rights, and contributor for the Foreign Policy Journal. He regularly appears on Islam Channel, Russia Today, BBC One, BBC Look East, BBC South and BBC radio stations discussing Middle East and North African politics, as well as domestic stories concerning British foreign policy, Islamophobia and the war on terror. Find him on Twitter @dillyhussain88

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