A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

National Institute of Justice awards $1.5 Million to START

START’s PIRUS team to further work on radicalization, mobilization, reintegration

Prison barsThe National Institute of Justice recently awarded nearly $1.5 million to START researchers for two new projects examining violent extremists’ radicalization, mobilization and reintegration. Each project builds off the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) and associated datasets to educate law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, and provide them with strategies and best practices for terrorism prevention and extremist reintegration in their communities.  

Led by Gary LaFree and Michael Jensen, “The Mobilization Puzzle: How Individual, Group, and Situational Dynamics Produce Extremist Outcomes” aims to better understand the differences between radicalization indicators – signs that an individual has adopted an ideology that promotes the use of violence for the attainment of political, economic, religious or social goals     – and mobilization indicators – signs that a radicalized individual is preparing to commit an attack. The project will also look at the differences between violent extremists and nonviolent extremists.

The team will do this by creating a relational database that includes event-level information on approximately 700-1,000 U.S.-based extremist plots since 1990. The events will be linked to data on the individuals and social networks from START’s PIRUS and Social Networks of American Radicals (SoNAR) datasets, making it possible to explore the radicalization characteristics, social-network dynamics and event-level details concurrently.

“The really exciting part of this project is that it will allow us—for the first time—to achieve a more complete understanding of how terrorists mobilize by studying not only the individual and social characteristics that motivate people to act, but also the capabilities, knowledge and situational dynamics that make action possible,” LaFree said.

Their findings will be developed into an online training series to educate law enforcement and criminal justice professionals on the risk factors associated with domestic radicalization to violent extremism and provide them with additional capacity to identify strategies for effective prevention and intervention.

Led by Jensen, LaFree and Elizabeth Yates, “Risk and Rehabilitation: Supporting the Work of Probation Officers in the Community Reentry of Extremist Offenders” will study risk factors for recidivism among extremists and barriers to successful reintegration, and incorporate those findings into online training modules and best practice toolkits for probation officers, criminal justice officials and others who deal with extremist offender reintegration.

Drawing on PIRUS and associated datasets, the research team will assess the characteristics, needs and recidivism risks for extremist offenders across the United States. The researchers will also work with the Probation and Pretrial Services Office of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to survey U.S. probation officers about their experiences in supporting offenders, including extremists. Additionally, the team will interview approximately 20 probation officers and 10 former extremist offenders to gain a more in-depth understanding of reintegration processes, barriers and strategies for success.

Training will be built based on the project findings around the identification of individual and community-level barriers to successful reintegration of extremists. Other training material and best practice toolkits will focus on providing guidance for probation officers in making risk assessments, providing reintegration services and post-confinement supervision and offering guidelines for sentencing and confinement.