No place for young people

In this very moment there are young people who are leaving home to build a future in the best universities of the world, but there are also young people crossing the desert to join groups of fighters, and young people trying to cross the sea in small boats to escape their harsh circumstances and hope to find something better.

The journey has always been the metaphor that embodies young people’s process towards self-realization. The journey is a spiritual one, but is increasingly the dream of crossing physical spaces to complete the individual growth. As in the Odyssey, the journey allows the individuals to find themselves, to find their final home.

No country for young people talks about these journeys, explaining why many youths find the path to grow into their potential and reach full realization. The articles of this issue of F3 go through wars, violence, and different forms of indoctrination, and discuss what has been done and what remains to be done to meet the expectations of a new generation of citizens of the world.

Searching for a purpose and a final destination has always been about overcoming obstacles and risks, and adapting to the new environment. But many youths find themselves in a dead end, especially when societies are not able to create the conditions for them to experience real growth.

UNICRI works with young people who have experienced a false start in life, people who are in conflict with the law, such as the violent extremists who for many communities are considered irreparably damaged. For these societies, young people have crossed a line from where turning back is simply impossible. They must be held accountable, but the sentence must consider the possibility of a backward journey, a recovery, a real change and a restart.

UNICRI bases its activities to prevent violent extremism on a comprehensive end-to-end approach. This end-to-end approach begins in the community where prevention is the focus, considering the broader context, and involves those who are at high risk of failure in the community. When prevention falters, intervention begins. This work includes alternative measures and diversion of juveniles from the criminal justice system, and training of criminal justice system actors on the nuances of violent extremism and terrorism cases. For those who fail these steps, rehabilitation and reintegration models are operating in prison and in the community, assisting in the reintegration of offenders into the community and working with the community to be receptive to and inclusive of the diverted and re-entering offenders. UNICRI assists Member States with context-driven actionable knowledge to strengthen national capacity with a comprehensive end-to-end approach that considers all steps in the life-cycle of a terrorist, violent extremist offender, or foreign terrorist fighter, to adjust their social and institutional environment and the criminal justice system.

In the end-to-end approach, UNICRI employs a theory of change that is grounded in a combination of treatment models, including an expansion of J. David Hawkins’ early work on a concentric circle model of treatment for juveniles in conflict with the law. This model has a series of concentric circles or levels of influence. The borders of the circles are fluid. A change in one circle impacts all the other circles. Thus, the theory of change suggests that treatment activities must address all levels of influence over an individual simultaneously or the change in one level will be absorbed in another level, resulting in no change in the overall outcome. This is summarized in frequently heard statements, such as treatment must be multi-disciplinary and address all the unique and common issues of each violent extremist.

For example, in the case of a treatment focused primarily on the individual, as the individual begins to change, the family and peers need to be “taken along.” If the inmate is illiterate and begins to read, he or she is going to develop a broader base of knowledge. If everyone in the family is illiterate, this puts a gulf between them. Thus, family literacy courses may be required. Additionally, for successful prevention and reintegration, the community (and eventually the world at large) must change its perceptions, laws, policies and interactions with the individuals.

The goal of the program is to address each level simultaneously to create change in each concentric circle. The method in which this is done is not as important as ensuring the change in one circle is not absorbed by another circle. The goal and end result are to help the treatment-participant to understand his or her cognitive errors and distortions. The method and provider represent the means to achieve this objective and, to be effective and sustainable, need to be tailored according to each specific case. Treatment programs usually contain a set of common needs for all participants and a set of individualized treatment needs. Treatment programs must be multi-disciplinary (i.e., mental health, physical health, spiritual health, social, environmental, employment, education, etc.) to address the various needs.

We, as communities, must recognize the importance of creating the conditions for our young generation to shape their vision and future. And we must ensure that those youths who have failed in the process are reintegrated, brought back to heal and make a new start.

This raises many questions: What are the conditions that led them to fail in the first place? How many countries in the world today are truly suitable for young people to expand their potential, to develop instead of being consumed by rage and humiliation? We can prepare or repair youths’ sails to make them able to travel their journey, but when our own societies do not have a direction, when they are violent and unfair, we can not expect the young to stay on course.

Director, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI)Cindy J. Smith, UNICRI Director