Preventing and countering radicalisation leading to violent extremism has been identified as a European and global priority, especially in the face of growing and ever-changing security challenges. Recent years have demonstrated how new forms of terrorism and violent extremism have been evolving, primarily benefiting from the growth of the digital space, calling for national justice systems to adapt.
In this quest for adaptation and effectiveness, the European Commission stressed its priorities, re-emphasising how human resources play a vital and indisputable role in the success of effective P/CVE work. Consequently, and building on top of the Lisbon Treaty, training has been prioritised as a critical step to build trust and competencies in an EU-wide justice.
In fact, after the first EU Judicial Training Staff Strategy in 2011 and its fairly positive evaluation in 2019, a renewed EU Judicial Training Strategy was put forward from 2021 to 2024.
To adequately face the increased and renewed challenges posed to the Union (namely attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms, the subsequent deterioration of the rule of law, the current digitalisation of societies, and the prospect of its extension for Western Balkan countries), the training of justice professionals requires strengthening. By extending its scope and nature, training offers on new and up-to-date topics targeting new professions, and geographical locations are expected to improve P/CVE work.
Prison and probation staff were pinpointed as a new target audience. Their training is paramount to guaranteeing fundamental rights while ensuring the success of rehabilitative and reintegrative efforts. However, the last decade’s development strongly changed the P/CVE landscape, creating a more shattered, diversified and complex scenario, calling for local efforts to be catalysed. Moreover, radicalisation often takes place locally, thus requiring a continuum of support and intervention for effective prevention. For such, mobilising communitarian practitioners is paramount.
Beyond questioning what actors to involve when working to increase the effectiveness of P/CVE work, another vital topic to consider is the quantity and quality of the training delivered to prison, probation and communitarian frontline practitioners. Providing training is not an end in itself since its utmost quality is what guarantees its objectives. An evidence-based and grounded methodology is essential, from the design to the implementation and evaluation stages.
Nevertheless, training justice professionals is demanding and should account for these practitioners’ daily needs and challenges. Accounting for these needs, the European Commission stresses the employment of diverse learning technics within a Blended learning scheme, including face-to-face residential activities alongside e-Learning tools. Accessible learning tools should be prioritised, respecting practitioners’ availability and diversity, whilst mobilising new technologies to uphold the quality of training. In this sense, training cannot just be about delivering information, but it should be about building knowledge towards practice.
These concerns are being actively tackled by the HOPE “Holistic Radicalisation Prevention Initiative” project, which has the primary objective of creating a European Learning Hub on radicalisation.
The project is currently developing newly-designed, innovative, multidisciplinary and tailored approaches to training. These efforts aim to raise awareness, foster overall knowledge and enhance competencies with a regional focus. This training strives to improve the skill set of prison, probation and communitarian practitioners to ultimately increase their work efficiency with vulnerable, at-risk or radicalised individuals. It also stresses the importance of creating a continuum of intervention and support.
HOPE’s training offer contemplates interactive, practical and accessible learning methods that have been prioritised to respond to justice professionals’ actual and assessed needs and maximise their performance. The initiative is focusing its efforts regionally, following the Union’s priority to train professionals from the Western Balkan countries. Considering this focus, HOPE’s developments are tailored to justice and communitarian professionals from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia, thus guaranteeing these countries’ further alignment with the Union’s goals.
But training can only be relevant if effective. Thus, it is essential to understand how and to which extent the training met practitioners’ needs and improved their daily practices. In fact, following the increase of training offers in P/CVE, understanding their quality and, most importantly, their usefulness at the local and national levels has become imperative. As a result, training efforts should encompass follow-up schemes to evaluate the learning competencies retained and used. This evaluation needs to care about amplifying the voice of the professionals targeted and assessing the impacts of the investment made.
Thus, and yet again aligning with EU Judicial Training Strategy, the HOPE project will work to evaluate its training offer. By setting various indicators and evaluation methods, the results of the pilot training course will be thoroughly analysed to ensure its quality whilst serving the project’s long-term sustainability.
Considering the above, staff training cannot be considered optional and time-limited. Instead, it should be a continuous and ongoing investment whose responsibility is to be shared between the States, training providers, and national and European organisations, requiring a more significant commitment from all concerned.
The HOPE project reflects this continuous investment, as the project is working to cement a learning hub, strengthen partnerships, and activate multi-agency cooperation as an essential step for effective P/CVE work.
Moreover, the project has its own online network, which is open to anyone involved in P/CVE, including prison and probation staff, community organisations’ professionals working closely with the criminal justice system, law enforcement agents, judicial practitioners, trainers and educators, and researchers/academics, aiming to build relevant knowledge and partnerships.
The HOPE “Holistic Radicalisation Prevention Initiative” is led by IPS_Innovative Prison Systems (Portugal) in partnership with the University College of the Norwegian Correctional Service, Agenfor International Foundation (Italy), the Euro-Arab Foundation for Higher Studies (Spain), the Bulgarian Association for Policy Evaluation, the General Directorate for the Execution of Sentences (Bulgaria), the Bucharest-Jilava Penitentiary (Romania), the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (Serbia) and the Slovenian Probation Administration.
For more information about the HOPE project, please visit www.hope-radproject.eu
Adams, T. (2019). Approaches to countering radicalisation and dealing with violent extremist and terrorist offenders in prisons and probation. RAN.
Dean, C. & Kessels, E. (2018).Compendium ofgood practices in the reintegration of violent extremist offenders. Global Center on Cooperative Security.
European Comission. (2020). Ensuring justice in the EU — a European judicial training strategy for 2021-2024.
Global Counter Terrorism Forum. (2009). Good practices on community engagement and community-oriented policing as tools to counter violent extremism. GCTF.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2016). Handbook on the management of violent extremist prisoners and prevention of radicalisation to violence in prisons. Criminal Justice Handbook Series, UNODC.