The Shawcross Review does not address the harms of Prevent scrutiny of children, and specifically Muslim children. Rather, its recommendations in fact accentuate them.
This should be viewed under all children’s rights to well-being, including religious well-being, and justice.
Pre-referral harms of Prevent
Prevent scrutiny of children begins at the pre-referral stage, of which there is no data to indicate how many children have experienced this scrutiny.
The harms are already significant at this point; children are subject to questioning by teachers and Prevent officers viewing the child as suspicious or a ‘potential terrorist’.
This denies the right to be presumed innocent, which is especially due to children.
Case testimony also reveals children have even been interviewed by police interviews without the presence of a parent or a responsible adult.
Both of these aspects, which are part of deciding whether a referral should be made, are distressing for a child and parents, and they are out of step with natural principles of justice.
No crime equals no due process rights
Although no offence has been committed and cooperation with the process is supposed to be voluntary, thanks to Prevent’s conflation with safeguarding, a child in the pre-referral stage has less rights under questioning than if they had committed a crime.
This means that children and their parents or carers are already under pressure to cooperate with Prevent purely due to the nature of the interaction, and the invocation of other ‘safeguarding concerns’ to ‘encourage’ cooperation.
When a child is referred onto Prevent, it is still unlikely to proceed onto Channel, although the psychological harms at this stage accelerate.
According to the Home Office, last year, only 6% of under 15s that were referred to Prevent were moved to Channel for ‘deradicalisation’, while 33% of Prevent referrals of under 15s were discussed an Channel panels.
The refocus on ‘Islamist extremism’
Refocussing Prevent on ‘Islamist’ extremism and away from ‘right-wing extremism’ would increase the number of Muslim children subject to the initial phase of scrutiny and subject to its harms.
The term ‘Islamist’ is problematic because it is not properly understood, and it has the potential to put politically aware Muslims, or children with an interest in Islamic history and certain areas of Islamic scholarship, for example, under suspicion.
This is especially true when the definition of ‘Islamist’ is currently being set by neo-conservative thinktanks who perceive Islam as a threat to Europe.
Thanks to this recommendation, we can now regard Prevent as part of a wider and oppressive process involved with the policing of young people to produce a ‘school to prison pipeline’. (Breakspear, 2022)
This blog is based on the People’s Review of Prevent: Response to the Shawcross Review