Crime and Terror: Examining Criminal Risk Factors for Terrorist Recidivism

Abstract

Objectives

The number of individuals incarcerated for terrorism offences in the West has grown considerably in recent years. However, unlike the extensive literature on recidivism for ordinary criminal offenders, little is known about recidivism for terrorism offenders. Given that many terrorism offenders are to be released in the coming years, the Israeli case is used to explore possible insights into the recidivist characteristics of terrorism offenders.

Methodology

Using a unique dataset of terrorism offenders from Jerusalem provided by the Israeli Prison Service, proportional hazards regressions were used to assess the risk of terrorism-related recidivism for first-time and repeat terrorism offenders by examining factors related to incarceration history and other background factors known to be relevant for criminal recidivism.

Findings

The recidivism rate of terrorism offenders is higher than that for ordinary criminal offenders but follows similar patterns: sentence length and age upon release reduce risk of recidivism, while affiliation with a terrorist organization significantly increase it. For repeat offenders, recidivism to a new terrorism offense increases with the number of prior terrorism-related incarcerations and decreases with the number of additional incarcerations for regular criminal offences. While marital status affected recidivism of first-timers, it had no significant effect for repeat offenders. The effects of offence type for prior incarcerations were similar in the two analyses.

Conclusions

Many factors, including sentence length, age, and prior terrorist criminal records show similar impacts upon terrorist offenders. However, others have opposing impacts. While prior criminality is a known risk factor for criminal offenders, recidivism of terrorists into further terrorism involvement is inhibited by prior criminal records as opposed to prior records for terrorism. Marital status, generally seen as an inhibitor of criminality increases re-offending for the first offender group. This might be explained by the financial incentives that terrorism offenders and their families receive from the Palestinian Authority.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We calculated these numbers from all TE-SAT reports which can be found at https://www.europol.europa.eu/activities-services/main-reports/eu-terrorism-situation-and-trend-report#fndtn-tabs-0-bottom-2.

  2. 2.

    Quoted in Drago, T., Spain, Judge Garzon Swoops Down on ETA Youth Group, Inter Press Service News Agency, 6 March 2001, accessed on 21 August 2018 at http://www.ipsnews.net/2001/03/spain-judge-garzon-swoops-down-on-eta-youth-group/.

  3. 3.

    Other offenses that were not included in these categories were excluded from analysis since they appeared in the data too infrequently.

  4. 4.

    Data on organizational affiliation is derived from intelligence gathering, which includes interviews with the detainees, as well as secret intelligence developed primarily by the ISA.

  5. 5.

    The IPS data also has access to personal details of prisoners as held by the Ministry of the Interior, through whom all marriage registrations are processed according to each citizen's and resident's national identification number. As demonstrated by the small number of unknown cases, the data is considered to be highly reliable.

  6. 6.

    In contrast to the male prisoners, females were mostly not affiliated to any organization (only 6 were affiliated: 3 to Fatah, 2 to Hamas and 1 to a secular faction). Additionally, only 6 were married. Moreover, their mean age was 24.9 (8.4 SD), which also differed significantly from the males. The average sentence length for females was relatively longer than males (mean length: 210 weeks, SD: 257.3). Importantly, 21 of the 28 female prisoners were still serving their sentence at the end of the observation period. Accordingly, only two were incarcerated more than once during the studied period: one with a criminal charge and the other with a second security incarceration.

  7. 7.

    20 individuals were excluded because they had very high numbers of criminal or security incarcerations relative to other prisoners (a minimum of 7 and 4 prior criminal and security incarcerations, respectively).

  8. 8.

    As per multiple surveys carried out by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC). See http://www.jmcc.org/index.aspx.

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Acknowledgements

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 699824.

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Hasisi, B., Carmel, T., Weisburd, D. et al. Crime and Terror: Examining Criminal Risk Factors for Terrorist Recidivism. J Quant Criminol 36, 449–472 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-019-09415-y

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Keywords

  • Terrorism
  • Recidivism
  • Israel