Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Reintegrating delinquents with an extremist background: evaluation of the Dutch approach

How to minimalize the chance of recidivism for extremist prisoners.

2013 - 2017
Liesbeth van der Heide
National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism

Reclassering Nederland


After the breakout of the Syrian civil war (2011 – present), a revival of Jihadist ideologies occurred that has also had a profound impact on Europe. Thousands of European civilians left for Syria and Iraq to join terrorist organisations such as Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN) as ‘foreign fighters’. The Dutch government is one of many who are faced with the risk of not only ‘returnees’ but rather also ‘remainers’ planning possible terrorist attacks. On top of that, surrounding each person who is actually (thinking of) planning to travel to a conflict zone, a larger and growing group of sympathisers can be found, who are, for example, actively participating in spreading Jihadist propaganda, or who are actively proclaiming their intolerance of dissenters. As a result of this development there has been an increase in the number of prisoners in Dutch prisons who have been involved in terrorist attacks or who adhere to extremist worldviews.

Reducing Recidivism

Most extremist prisoners will have to be released at some point or other. Over the last couple of years, there have also been several incidents with radicalised or downright extremist individuals whose provisional detention has been suspended. In both cases the question arises how to minimalize the chance of recidivism. Several countries have developed unique reintegration initiatives specifically targeting radicalized, extremist and terrorist prisoners and suspects. In the Netherlands there has been a similar project since 2012, the result of a collaboration between the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) and Reclassering Nederland (RN - the Dutch rehabilitation service). Such programmes aim to reduce the chance of recidivism by deploying specialist resocialisation tracks and by, whenever possible, striving towards ideological deradicalization. Due to a lack of evaluation studies it is unclear whether this type of initiatives are successful and, if so, what makes them effective.

From February 2013 until February 2014, the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism (CTC) at Leiden University carried out an assessment of the Dutch project. The research was funded by the NCTV and focussed on the following questions: 1) On which policy and organisational assumptions has the project been based and how realistic are they? 2) How was the organisational implementation of the project carried out? 3) Can an estimate be given of the actual impact of the initiative on reducing the chance of recidivism for radicalized, extremist and terrorist prisoners and suspects? During the project the emphasis lay on the first two questions. It was not possible to reach definitive conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the programme, in part because of the prolonged nature of the individual tracks. During the research period, all of the clients involved were still participating in the project. To further assess the outcome of this special reintegration project, in April 2015, the NCTV issued a request for follow-up research. This research project was finalized during last summer. You can download the complete research report as pdf (in Dutch only) from 6 November 2018.

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