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Barriers to PREVENT(ing) radicalisation

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Published on 04 June 2018

Dr Paul Dresser
Dr Paul Dresser

Dr Paul Dresser’s research highlights a number of organisational barriers towards achieving the successful aims of the PREVENT agenda, developed to safeguard individuals and communities from the threat of terrorism.

PREVENT was introduced to a wide range of sectors and institutions, including education, criminal justice, faith, charities and health, working together to break the risks of radicalisation or which support counter-radicalisation work.

However, accounts from police officers working in a ‘low risk’ constabulary   involved in the study draw attention to the challenges they face in trying to establish collaborative counter-terrorism with professional institutions. These include competing organisational objectives; contrasting perceptions of a person’s “vulnerability”; high staff turnover with partner institutions; and a lack of trust of PREVENT by professional partners.

Dr Dresser, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Sunderland, adds: “The issues I found were compounded by the fact that the officers I interviewed were operating in a PREVENT area defined by government funding structure as ‘non priority’. This meant financial resources for full-time partnerships were lacking; as a result, officers relied on the goodwill of certain individuals within partner agencies to willingly engage with police.

“Overall, the research draws attention to the difficulties of achieving harmonious, joined-up methods of counter-terrorism from a police perspective. This challenges the notion that counter-terrorism is a delivered in an accepted, multi-agency fashion; in fact, officers’ accounts suggest that, to a degree, the practice of counter-radicalisation is, ominously, dependent on luck.”

Dr Dresser says in order to address some of the issues, more evidence–based research is needed to evaluate how counter-radicalisation is practiced, understood and challenged both within and across professional sectors and institutions.

He also argues that very little is known about PREVENT from a police perspective, adding: “to better understand counter-radicalisation in practice, researchers must explore the experiences of PREVENT police officers and the wide body of professionals tasked with counter-radicalisation. This includes research which evaluates the practice of PREVENT in priority and non-priority areas. If we fail to do this, an understanding of PREVENT will remain partially realised.”

To view the full report: 'PREVENT Policing in Practice: The Need for Evidence-based Research': click here

Dr Dresser will deliver a talk on his work at the Northumbria Citizens in Policing Conference on Saturday, 23 June, 9.30am-3.30pm at Newcastle Marriott Hotel Gosforth Park.


PREVENT is one of four strands of the government's counter-terrorism strategy, known as Contest. It was created by the Labour government in 2003 and its remit was widened by the coalition government in 2011.

The other strands are: Prepare; Protect; and Pursue.

PREVENT is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities.

In practice, it aims for police and other organisations to build relations across the UK and requires faith leaders, teachers, doctors and others to refer any suspicions about people to a local PREVENT body. An assessment is then made about whether further action is needed.

Where action is taken, an individual can be placed on the government's Channel Programme. This is a support plan which may include mentoring.

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