Interventions with extremist offenders show promise

By Russel Webster

Results from process evaluations of Motivational and Engagement Intervention (MEI) and the Healthy Identity Intervention (HII) interventions with extremist offenders.

First analysis of new programmes

The Motivational and Engagement Intervention (MEI) and the Healthy Identity Intervention (HII) were developed by HMPPS to encourage and facilitate desistance and disengagement from extremist offending. They were piloted between 2010 and 2011.

The MoJ has just (24 July 2018) published a process evaluation of the pilot which explored the implementation using a qualitative approach. Twenty-two intervention participants and 22 facilitators who delivered the programmes were interviewed.

This summary presents the findings of the process evaluation as the first indicative step toward establishing whether the MEI and HII programmes are useful in facilitating desistance and disengagement, and preventing future extremist offending.

The findings have led to a number of programme revisions, including the two programmes being combined into a single programme called Healthy Identity Intervention.


The authors of this HMPPS analytical study, Chris Dean, Monica Lloyd, Carys Keane, Beverly Powis and Kiran Randhawa, describe the background to the development of the programmes. There was no simple model, theory, or rationale on which to base an intervention to address the factors associated with the non-criminal pathway into extremism.

As a result, MEI and HII were designed and developed based on a range of different sources, theories, models and data. Whilst aspects of the interventions were designed to accommodate some of the unique features of extremist offending, such as identity development, group processes and mindfulness, the interventions were also based on research and principles that already have utility in effectively addressing other types of offending behaviour.

MEI and HII sought to integrate well-established theoretical approaches to offender rehabilitation, including the Risk-Need-Responsivity principles, the Good Lives Model and Desistance literature. MEI and HII also included evidenced-based methods for effective interventions, such as pro-social modelling, emotional management and cognitive restructuring.

Key findings

The sample of 22 offenders in this pilot study comprised: fourteen al-Qaeda influenced offenders; two extreme right wing offenders; one animal rights extremist offender; one other political extremist offender and four gang affiliated offenders. The key findings from this process evaluation are set out below.

  • Overall, HII and MEI were viewed positively by facilitators and participants, and are believed to have utility with a range of extremist offenders. Participants reported that the programmes helped them gain an understanding of their motivations for offending and develop strategies to facilitate desistance.
  • The interventions were responsive and flexible in sequencing, pace and material. Facilitators particularly praised the focus on personal and social identity and needs, and the capacity to elicit discussions around faith, personal values and goals. Further positive aspects included the motivational and engaging approach used to deliver the interventions, with the supportive and collaborative facilitator-participant relationship playing a key part.
  • There was some repetition within and between the MEI and HII, leading to the recommendation to combine the two with a range of mix-and-match modules.
  • The interventions may not be suitable for people whose offending is not driven by engagement and identification with an extremist group, cause and/or ideology.
  • For participants who justified offending on religious grounds, a twin-track approach of addressing psycho-social issues alongside religious and/or political issues is recommended. Barriers to engaging in treatment were reported to include solicitors dissuading offenders from participating, and a previous lack of engagement between individuals and sentence management staff.


This was HMPPS’ first exploration and analysis of an intervention with convicted extremists. The evidence on which the recommendations are based is qualitative. Despite some limitations in the methodology and the small sample size, the evaluation findings were insightful and encouraging to the continued and developing approach to intervening with extremists.

Since this study was conducted, the revised HII (incorporating the recommended changes detailed above) has been implemented nationally as an intervention to encourage and facilitate desistance and disengagement from extremist offending.

Further research is now needed to explore the impact and outcomes of HII. HMPPS is currently developing an impact evaluation of HII to explore outcomes over the longer term and across national delivery.


This content has been republished with permission from the author. See  the original here.

Russel Webster is an expert in Criminal Justice and substance misuse, and the author of the blog russelwebster.com

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