Once a Terrorist, always a Terrorist?: Convicted terrorists less likely to reoffend than other criminals

May 22, 2020


2 min read

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What's going on here?

New research in Belgium shows that 5% of terrorists commit further terrorist offences, compared with the worldwide average rates of criminal recidivism (reoffending) which sits within a range between 40-60%.

What does this mean?

Belgium has faced Islamist terrorism since the early 1990s and was at the centre of the Islamic State campaign in Europe in 2015-2016. Between 2016-2018, the courts in Belgium heard 301 cases in relation to terror offences, a similar number to other EU states: Spain (343), the UK (329) and France (327). Of the 557 individuals included in the new study, less than 3% were convicted for a second terrorism offence and less than 5% returned to extremist activities.

What's the big picture effect?

The new findings have the potential to confuse many as there is a common misconception that those who have radical beliefs, to the point they qualify as a terrorist, must have strong views which are near impossible to part with. This new study has the potential to adjust this misconception and prove to the masses that individuals are able to change their path. It is especially noteworthy that there exists no specific rehabilitation programme in Belgian prisons targeting all terror offenders. Instead there is a voluntary programme geared towards disengagement and behavioural change. In 2019, 27 inmates were selected to take part in this nine-month programme, named Césure. This suggests that even without a wide-reaching rehabilitation programme, terror offenders in Belgium are changing their path without major educating intervention from authorities.

However, these conclusions will be met with some scepticism. In November 2019, Usman Khan stabbed two people to death near London Bridge, around a year after being released on licence. He was, in fact, attending a prisoner rehabilitation programme when he launched this attack. This and similar events led the UK government to introduce new legislation, the “Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020,” which ensures that people convicted of serious terrorist offences will no longer automatically be released halfway through their sentences. In light of this new research, should the UK government reconsider this policy or instead redirect funding to tackle the higher rates of reoffending in other areas?

Report written by Kasey Cummings

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