THE BLOG

The Prevent Strategy Isn't Working

19/10/2016 17:40
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images

The Government's Prevent Strategy simply doesn't work. The recent report from the Open Society Justice Initiative analyses the effect of the prevent strategy on the education system and the NHS and shows how its effect is both draconian and counter-productive.

This is simply the latest in a long line of reports and critiques of the Government's failing strategy. Previously the National Union of Teachers has mounted a sustained criticism of Prevent and the union has passed a motion opposing it outright. The same is true of the National Union of Students, and the other teaching unions UCU and NASUWT have also opposed it. A host of NGOs, campaigners and civil liberties organisations have also made strong criticisms and some have called for its reform or abandonment.

To be clear, none of these organisations have any sympathies whatsoever with terrorism or act as apologists for it. Their members and supporters are the victim or potential victims of any terrorist incidents that are committed here. Their critique is widely shared. The parliamentary joint committee on human rights has called for a review, arguing that it has the potential to drive a wedge between the authorities and whole communities.

At the same time, the Government has a duty to protect all of its citizens. This includes but is not confined to terrorism. The problem with the Prevent Strategy is that it fails in its stated objective. It doesn't prevent the growth of terrorism. Instead, it tramples on our hard-won rights and demonises whole communities. It criminalises ideas, even on the vaguest grounds.

As a result there is the potential of promoting the very thing that the strategy says it is trying combat. Once ideas are outlawed and teachers, lecturers, doctors and nurses are set to policing them, then one of the few outlets for those ideas is genuine extremism and even violence.

The whole scheme is simply unworkable. Even with widespread non-cooperation the number of children under 10 who have been referred to the police 'Channel' under the Prevent Strategy is over 400 in the last four years. Families are terrified their kids will be taken from them, guilty only of playing school ground games, play acting or childish bragging. Yet according the police, 80% of all referrals are not acted on. If the Government got the cooperation it was seeking the police would be inundated with bogus referrals.

The majority of this strategy is aimed at the Muslim community. It has an alienating effect of a community already experiencing discrimination and rising hate crime. In the past, it would have been others and who knows who it might be used against in future. It is all entirely counter-productive.

There is no evidence that it has prevented anything. It is time for a major review of the strategy and a fundamental rethink by Government.

Diane Abbott is the shadow home secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North

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