Priti Patel’s plan to tackle radicalised youth is so flawed it’s mad, says study

Mark Townsend
Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

A Home Office-funded study into tackling radicalisation among young people has concluded that the approach being pushed through by the home secretary, Priti Patel, is so flawed that it is “madness”.

Instead the research, which will be unveiled on Wednesday and is described as one of the biggest scientific surveys of its type in Europe, found that the most effective strategy was precisely the opposite approach pursued by Patel. Generating “positive psychology” among young people was found to be significantly more effective than punitive policies when challenging “violent youth radicalisation”, defined as gang crime through to the development of extreme ideologies.

Its conclusions contradict Patel’s hardline approach, typified by measures announced last week that emphasised longer jail terms for violent and terrorist offenders, lie-detector tests and increased monitoring.

Rather than rolling out more draconian measures to contain “risk”, the Youth Empowerment and Innovation Project, part funded by the Home Office, found that offering encouragement to youngsters and addressing factors such as social exclusion was a better way to mitigate violent youth radicalisation.

The findings will be unveiled this week at an international conference at the University of East London’s school of psychology with speakers including the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, officials from the European Commission and prominent academics.

However, Home Office enthusiasm for the project has, say sources, cooled over the past year under Sajid Javid and Patel, who succeeded Javid as home secretary last July. No minister from the Home Office has so far accepted an invitation to appear at the conference.

“Unfortunately the Home Office, which was supposed to lead on this project, has disengaged over the last year,” said Professor Theo Gavrielides, who led the three-year study.

Gavrielides, whose researchers interviewed 3,540 young people and professionals in schools, youth prisons, universities, migrant centres and online, said the UK government’s policy of managing risk and profiling possible offenders was backfiring.

Our project showed a positive way of engaging youth at risk, tapping into their talents

Professor Theo Gavrielides, project coordinator

“The research provides new evidence that by attempting to profile and predict violent youth radicalisation, we may in fact be breeding the very reasons that lead those at risk to violent acts.

“They are trying to minimise risk by putting people in prison or using rehabilitation programmes because they have profiled them because of their religion and so forth, but that creates more aggravation. It is madness to continue investing in the same philosophy and expecting to get a different result when we know that 75% of young people will end up reoffending. That is why we piloted a completely different approach,” added Gavrielides.

The project, piloted in schools, universities and youth offending institutions, found that when young people were encouraged to develop a talent or pastime, the radicalisation process was successfully challenged.

Gavrielides added: “Our project showed a positive way of engaging youth at risk, tapping into their talents rather than treating them as society risks.”

He added there were significant economic benefits with the average £80,000 annual cost of keeping an individual in a Youth Offending Institute sufficient to fund the same young person to the best university for three years.

His research also received funding from the EU’s Erasmus+ programme as well as other public bodies from across Europe and was coordinated by the IARS International Institute.

Professor Aneta Tunariu, dean of the school of psychology at the University of East London, said: “The YEIP represents a remarkable milestone in our collective understanding and approach to tackling the psychosocial conditions that overshadow and silence life-hope and its primordial place for human flourishing, fuelling marginalisation, misunderstandings, injustice and ultimately anger and division.”

Unveiling her new measures last week, Patel said the government had faced “hard truths” since the London Bridge attack in November, which was carried out by convicted terrorist Usman Khan out on licence from prison.

Among the measures included in a bill to be brought before parliament by mid-March was a minimum jail term of 14 years for serious crimes