Disengagement or Deradicalization: A Look at Prison Programs for Jailed Terrorists

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At no time in the past 50 years has there been as much interest in the idea of deradicalizing terrorists as today.1 Programs to deradicalize those linked to al-Qa'ida have been established in multiple countries, with the hope that reforming these extremists is possible.2 Nevertheless, doubts remain over the effectiveness of these programs. This uncertainty is only heightened by the chronic lack of proper evaluations on almost any of the programs involved. Adding to the difficulty is confusion over how to define the goals of the programs. Should they seek to merely disengage subjects from violence and other illegal activity? Or should they actually “deradicalize” a subject, which would mean a complete shift in the prisoner’s mindset, sympathies and attitudes? This article assesses the differences between disengagement and deradicalization. It suggests that deradicalizing prisoners—which requires changing their mindset and ideological beliefs—is exceedingly difficult, and it finds that disengagement is likely a more realistic outcome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-21
Number of pages4
JournalCTC Sentinel (Combatting Terrorism Center)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • disengagement
  • deradicalisation
  • Countering Violent Extremism
  • prison
  • prisoners
  • terrorists

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