Preventing Targeted Violence

In August 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded 26 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) grants to state, local and national nonprofit organizations to “build prevention programs that address the root causes of violent extremism and deter individuals who may already be radicalizing to violence.”1 The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) received a two-year grant from DHS to help states develop and implement strategies that prevent all forms of targeted violence.

Issue Brief


In addressing the threat of targeted violence, governors can play an important role in setting a vision for the state, engaging stakeholders, and developing a statewide strategic plan.

That role may best be understood by examining leadership in times of crisis, recent state events, and lessons learned. What could have been done to prevent motivations toward violence, strengthen the social fabric of communities, and intervene when the threat of violence became imminent?

This roadmap distills the latest research and draws from elements of public-health interventions to provide guidance to governors, state and local leaders, and other stakeholders on how to prevent targeted violence regardless of motivation—whether political, gender-based, or religious. By taking a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to preventing such violence, states can build safer and more resilient communities.

Further, the roadmap adopts the terminology “targeted violence,” rather than “countering violent extremism,” or “CVE,” to encompass all premeditated acts of violence targeting specific populations. We use “preventing targeted violence,” or “PTV,” to refer to a new approach focused on preventing violence rather than potential motivations. This approach can promote greater awareness among stakeholders about the various, evolving motivations behind such violence and help dispel the misconceptions that only al-Qaeda- or ISIS-inspired individuals are motivated to such acts of violence.

Preventing Targeted Violence: Governors’ Leadership

Governors have constitutional and statutory roles in ensuring the safety and well-being of all who live in their states. Protecting their citizens from targeted attacks is one of their most important duties. Governors can take action by examining recent incidents within their states for lessons learned, developing strategies to mitigate motivations toward violence, strengthening the social fabric, and focusing resources on working with communities to prevent future attacks.

By virtue of the office they hold, governors have the power to convene stakeholders to secure buy-in for a statewide plan for preventing targeted violence. They can connect key multidisciplinary leaders from state agencies, local partners, and non-governmental organizations to obtain commitment and set strategy.

As chief executives, governors can achieve goals for preventing targeted violence through budgeting, executive orders, and other gubernatorial tools.

As regulators and administrators, governors can increase collaboration of executive branch agencies within their states, including law enforcement, human services, and public health and ensure transparency and oversight for any violence prevention program. They can coordinate the lines of work between state, local, and community-based organizations, ensuring a cohesive, multidisciplinary, intergovernmental approach.

Using The Roadmap

This roadmap is distilled into two parts: actions and guiding principles. Action items describe an objective or goal, with corresponding guiding principles for implementing that action item.

The roadmap is not linear. Actions and guiding principles are interrelated and, once implemented, may require revisions. States should tailor strategies to their unique needs and environment; some strategies and recommendations may not be applicable or feasible for some states.

The primary audience consists of governors’ offices, state officials and stakeholders that together make up a statewide “preventing targeted violence team.”

Lesson Learned

Leverage the governor’s role as convener, executive, and administrator at key points in implementing targeted violence prevention, including strategy setting, program design, and securing community support.

Governor as Convener

  • Set Statewide Vision for Preventing Targeted Violence
  • Multidisciplinary Approach
  • Stakeholder Identification and Buy In

Governor as Executive

  • Establish Goals for Violence Prevention
  • Funding for Capability Development
  • Evidence-based Policy
  • Crisis Manager in Chief
  • Intergovernmental Relationships

Governor as Administrator

  • Unity of Effort
  • Data and Information Sharing
  • Communications Campaign
  • Transparency and Oversight
  • Civil Liberties Protection


In August 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded 26 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) grants to state, local and national nonprofit organizations to “build prevention programs that address the root causes of violent extremism and deter individuals who may already be radicalizing to violence.” The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) received a two-year grant from DHS to help states develop and implement strategies that prevent all forms of targeted violence.

Read more…

How Is Violent Extremism Defined Under Federal Law?

“Violent extremism” is not a federally defined crime and individuals cannot be charged as “violent extremists.” As such, prosecutors rely on a series of federal and state statutes to charge individuals with related crimes.

However, various federal frameworks delimit the contours of how violent extremism may be defined.

The 2016 White House’s “Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the U.S.” defines “CVE” as:

“Proactive actions to counter efforts by extremists to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence.”

The definition was broadened in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2019 “Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence,” which defines “homegrown violent extremists” as:

“a person of any citizenship who has lived and/or operated primarily in the United States or its territories who advocates, is engaged in, or is preparing to engage in ideologically-motivated terrorist activities (including providing support to terrorism) in furtherance of political or social objectives.” 3

The core purpose of CVE and PTV initiatives is to prevent harm and engage a coalition of stakeholders that extends beyond a state’s law enforcement agency. Given the impact targeted violence has on children, families, and other vulnerable populations, social services, education, public health, and civil rights officials also should be involved. The intersectional nature of the threat necessitates a multidisciplinary approach to identify the root cause of violence and mitigate it from spreading.

Under national security laws, however, acts of targeted violence may be defined as acts of terrorism. Under the Antiterrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2331-2339D, “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” are defined as follows:4

  • (1) The term “international terrorism” means activities that
    • (A) Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
    • (B) Appear to be intended
      • (i) To intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
      • (ii) To influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
      • (iii) To affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
    • (C) Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or see asylum;
  • (2) The term “domestic terrorism” means activities that
    • (A) Involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
    • (B) Appear to be intended
      • (i) To intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
      • (ii) To influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
      • (iii) To affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
    • (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.5

These specific statutes do not establish a criminal penalty for domestic terrorism but can be applied to associated statutes when charging a suspect with a criminal act. Such charges include Use/Attempted Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (18 United States Code [U.S.C.] § 2332a)6 and Providing Material Support to Terrorists (18 U.S.C. § 2339A)7.

Acts of targeted violence are also addressed in hate-crime statutes. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (18 U.S.C. § 249) carries a criminal penalty and defines “hate crimes” as:

  • (1) Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin. Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person . . .
  • (2) Offenses involving actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.8

Several states, however, have codified targeted violence statutes in their state codes.9 Because of the number of such federal and state statutes, state, local and federal prosecutors typically work together to determine which federal or state charges to bring in a case.10

How Often Does Targeted Violence Occur?

• According to RAND’s analysis of the Global Terrorism Database, 329 incidents of terrorism occurred in the United States between 2002 and 2016. 11

• According to the “New America’s Report on Terrorism,” 185 people were killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between late 2001 and 2018.12

• According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START) “Profile of Individual Radicalization in the United States,” 943 individuals took violent or other illegal supportive action between 2002 and 2016.13

From 2001 to 2017, 111,821 hate crimes were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);15 however, these crimes tend to be underreported.16 Although hate crimes are not statutorily considered “acts of terrorism,” they are the “closet data set” the federal government has on acts of domestic targeted violence.17

These statistics fall short of painting a full picture of how often acts of targeted violence occur. For instance, prosecutors may decide to prosecute an individual on charges of homicide rather than a hate crime. A RAND report notes the challenge of determining intent and a person’s true motive for committing acts of violence:

“Where criminals use violence instrumentally to meet their own needs or achieve their own goals, terrorists strategically engage in violence to send a political message and influence an audience that is broader than those directly affected by their act. Even though this focus on intent seems to draw a clear line, that line can blur in practice. In some cases, blurring can occur because of uncertainty about the true motive behind an attack, particularly in cases where some combination of mental health, substance use disorder, ideological, or personal factors might influence an individual’s actions. In other cases, the nature of an attack may be clearly ideological — as is the case for racist and other types of hate crimes — but the desire to impact an audience beyond the direct victims of the attack may be less credible or clear.”18

Integrating Elements Of A Public Health Approach

A goal of a Preventing Targeted Violence (PTV) approach is to illuminate why targeted violence is more than simply a law enforcement matter. The multidisciplinary nature of the threat necessitates a multidisciplinary approach to ensure the root cause of violence is identified and prevented from spreading.

The PTV model presented here draws on elements of a public health approach: collective action by behavioral health (mental health and substance misuse), public health, and law enforcement practitioners.19 As such, it includes primary, secondary and tertiary prevention efforts:20

Primary Prevention

Primary prevention efforts in the public health domain include an array of activities aimed at preventing disease before it occurs, such as risk mitigation and resiliency strategies.21 For PTV, states would need to start their engagement and primary prevention approaches by informing local stakeholders — mayors, social service providers, public health staff, educators, chiefs of police — about how frequently or infrequently targeted violence occurs in the state. PTV also includes identifying and explaining the root causes of targeted violence to policymakers and practitioners based on solid research and data.

Secondary Prevention

These efforts typically refer to actions directed at a specific population that is susceptible to a disease or is in the early stages of experiencing an outbreak22. With respect to PTV, secondary prevention means helping those who may be prone to risk factors or may already be experiencing or exhibiting the risk factors but have not, or are not at imminent risk of, committing targeted violence.

Tertiary Prevention

These efforts focus on curing an individual of a disease or preventing relapse23. This roadmap is not focused on “curing” someone of an ideology. Rather, it emphasizes relapse prevention strategies. For example, mitigating risk of further targeted violence through specific interventions to individuals who have committed an act of targeted violence and may be reengaging with the community (e.g. through release from prison).

Why Violence Prevention?

  • PTV maps on to other prevention and mitigation efforts, such as public health approaches, creating natural synergies and partnership opportunities across multiple disciplines.
  • PTV assumes that the problem is violence and behavior surrounding a targeted approach to violence, not what could be legally protected speech, ideology or religion. Focusing on violence rather than ideology helps safeguard civil rights, civil liberties and privacy, and it lessens the potential for targeting constitutionally protected ideologies or beliefs.
  • States can play a key role in supporting, scaling and spreading promising local interventions through sharing resources, fostering relationships, and bringing training and technical assistance to local efforts that need it. They have greater access to resources than their local counterparts and can foster relationships through local and national programs.
  • A state-led approach can drive coordination with local government entities and nonprofit organizations.
  • A PTV approach promotes the inclusion of stakeholders across disciplines by delineating roles and responsibilities among them while encouraging collective action.

What Is The Role Of Governors?

  • Perhaps the most important role a governor plays is ensuring the safety of citizens and their communities. Reviewing, updating and, if needed, establishing emergency response plans should be among the first acts of any administration and can incorporate strategies to address targeted violence.
  • As state executives, governors can leverage their convening power to bring together policymakers, experts, and key stakeholders to develop a statewide strategy for PTV.
  • Further, they can use the bullypulpit to communicate this as a shared priority.
  • Governors are both purchasers and suppliers of services central to prevention efforts and can shape access to best practices in this domain and engage key stakeholders (both public and private) in implementation.

Step 1: Establishing Governance and Strategy

This section details how states can create a governance body for identifying state priorities and appropriate roles and responsibilities for stakeholders. A statewide PTV strategy is critical for creating and sustaining buy-in for programs and policies. Effective implementation of a PTV strategy requires engagement from multiple agencies, levels of government and public-private partnerships, rather than operating solely through law enforcement. For example, former Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado appointed a team comprised of representatives from the Department of Public Safety, Emergency Management’s Colorado Information Analysis Center, Department of Human Services and University of Denver’s Colorado Resilience Collaborative. The team was charged with building healthy communities in Colorado by reducing targeted violence through the integration of existing training, partnerships, and intervention programs.

Creating a Multidisciplinary Governance Structure

Strategy: Establish a multidisciplinary team that consists of state, federal and local government agencies; nongovernment al organizations; and private stakeholders.

Purpose: To promote collaboration among inter- and intrastate organizations, reduce duplication of efforts and assemble and share resources and services.

Potential Stakeholders in Preventing Targeted Violence

Federal Partners

  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • National Counterterrorism Center
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Corrections

Local / Nongovernmental Partners

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Labor and workforce development
  • Private sector and tech companies
  • Behavioral health providers (mental health and substance use disorder providers)
  • Statewide youth council
  • Labor and workforce development
  • Art councils
  • Schools and Universities

State Partners

  • Public health agencies and organizations
  • Health and human services agencies and organizations
  • Fusion center
  • Law enforcement
  • Former perpetrators of targeted violence
  • Attorney general’s office
  • Agencies’ legal counsel
  • Human rights commission
  • Referral networks
  • Department of public safety/ criminal justice
  • Academia
  • Community- and faith-based organizations
  • Legislators
Guiding Principles for Selecting a Preventing Targeted Violence Team

Engaging Stakeholders

  • Identify organizations’ and stakeholders’ capabilities and limitations.
  • Identify stakeholders who can help the state develop and implement evaluation frameworks.
  • Identify stakeholders who can help government agencies and organizations provide prevention services in underserved communities.
  • Identify statewide or national organizations that have local chapters.
  • Ask what role youth will have in developing programs.
  • Identify roles and responsibilities a stakeholder may perform that are outside their traditional roles and responsibilities. Consider which stakeholders should take those roles on.
  • Take advantage of preexisting relationships by including organizations that provide prevention services (e.g., suicide prevention, drug prevention, gang prevention).
  • Assess shared interests and identify opportunities of collaboration between organizations.
  • Ensure that responsibilities do not shift onto one group or profession.
  • Collaborate with locals to identify their needs.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to detail their roles and responsibilities in implementing a potential strategy.
  • Inform the public of the stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities.

Building Your Team

  • Identify a leadership or governance structure (e.g., working group, steering committee, advisory committee, task force).
  • Determine which agency or agencies will be responsible for administration, such as communications, records and logistics.
  • Identify immediate and long-term sustainability requirements.
  • Define “preventing targeted violence” for potential stakeholders in building support.
  • Potential stakeholders need to understand why they should be involved, targeted violence statistics and how targeted violence affects the state.
  • Collaborate with agencies’ general counsel to determine the best governance framework and identify solutions to liability concerns (e.g., privacy protections, due process, compliance with statutes).

Identifying Mission, Goals, Objectives and Audiences

Strategy: The state must identify a mission, goals, objectives and audience to shape its strategy.

Purpose: To ensure that the state tailors its activities to measurable and achievable goals for a specific audience (e.g. youth, mental health and substance use disorder practitioners, parents).

Actions and Guiding Principles for Advancing a PTV Strategy

Action: Define your terms.

Guiding Principles: The first task of the governing body should be to define a term that adequately reflects the state’s mission and goals.

Action: Identify the parameters and scope of the strategy.

Guiding Principles:

Questions to ask when identifying parameters and scope include:

  • Where can the government (local or state) assist?
  • Where should it not intervene?
  • Which issues can be resolved by nongovernmental entities or leaders?
  • Which issues can these entities and leaders resolve?
  • Which issues are outside their control?
  • When and how should the public seek support from local government?
  • Did a previous program damage or improve community relations?
  • How does the new strategy differ from or complement existing policy strategies, such as state public health, homeland security, public safety or state violence reduction strategies?

Action: Take stock of current violence prevention efforts conducted by organizations, private companies, local government and state government agencies.

Guiding Principles:

  • Determine if various organizations’ efforts are complementary and identify opportunities for collaboration.
  • Examine other prevention programs (e.g., suicide prevention, anti-bullying, drug abuse prevention, gang prevention) for possible overlap with a preventing targeted violence strategy.
  • Identify reformed perpetrators of targeted violence in the locality or state who would be willing to assist with prevention efforts. 
  • Determine whether law enforcement receives adequate training for PTV.
  • Expand training or awareness of existing services to other professions, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and 911 call staff.
  • Collaborate with the private sector to identify and potentially partner with existing prevention initiatives (e.g., Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism.)

Action: Develop metrics.

Guiding Principles:

  • Collaborate with a neutral third party, such as a university, to provide the state with additional resources and expertise (e.g., evaluation tools, subject matter experts, time).
  • Ensure that the outside evaluator uses scientific measures and, to prevent bias, does not play a role in implementation.
  • Look for ways to incorporate performance metrics throughout the development and implementation process to measure performance and effectiveness.

Defining Terminology

Strategy: Define specific terms that may have a different meaning in other disciplinary fields.

Purpose: To ensure that all stakeholders have a common understanding of terminology so that messaging is consistent and unified.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Defining Terminology

Action: Identify and define words or phrases that may have different meanings across disciplines. When the PTV team engages new stakeholders, these definitions clarify the challenges to be addressed, their solutions and the stakeholder’s role in the strategy.

Guiding Principle:

Potential words and phrases to clarify include:

  • Community policing
  • Community resilience
  • Counterterrorism
  • Deradicalization
  • Disengagement
  • Demobilization
  • Domestic Violent Extremism
  • Hate crime
  • Homegrown terrorism
  • Ideology
  • Interdiction
  • Intervention
  • Mental health
  • Mental illness
  • Noncriminal
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention
  • Procedural justice
  • Threat assessment
  • Violent extremism
  • Violence prevention

Action: When defining words and phrases, consider existing government statutes and policies that may already provide definitions.

Guiding Principle:  Review federal and state terrorism and hate crime statutes (18 United States Code § 249).

Protecting Civil Rights, Civil Liberties and Privacy

Strategy: Actively protect and promote civil rights, civil liberties and privacy through policies or safeguards.

Purpose: To prevent and address violations of civil rights, civil liberties and privacy.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Protecting Civil Rights, Civil Liberties and Privacy

Action: Implement and promote civil rights and civil liberties safeguards in programing.

Guiding Principles:

  • Collaboration: Engage with governor’s legal counsel, as well as agencies’ general counsels, to implement universal safeguards in all agency policies and programs concerning PVT programs. Consider producing legal-justification memos.
  • Transparency: Record and publish meeting minutes. Maintain a website that details the state’s activities, the resources employed, the organizations and agencies involved, and the safeguards in place
  • Evaluation: Understand ways recipients of state government grants can use funding to protect civil liberties and privacy.
  • Process: Ensure a complaints process exists for those who believe that the PTV program has violated their rights. The process should be managed within an independent agency that is able to work across agencies.
  • Training: Training materials, information sharing procedures and evaluation tools should be publicly available at the state level so that independent experts can review them.

Action: Proactively mitigate the risk of discrimination and incendiary reactions by government entities, localities and the general public.

Guiding Principles:

  • Evaluate current training for state and local law enforcement officers, social services providers and agency staff. Determine whether civil rights, civil liberties, implicit bias or privacy training should be created or updated.
  • Consider crisis intervention training for first responders. First responders are able to provide care and help to consumers in critical moments until special treatment is arranged.
  • Provide information about appropriate ways for law enforcement to respond to individuals trying to elicit a negative response (e.g., de-escalation techniques).

Step 2: Data

To understand the full impact of acts of targeted violence, leaders must collect and analyze relevant data from targeted violence within their state. Under Federal law, the definitions for attacks, hate crimes, and related incidents are not defined. Without a uniform definition, leaders must review federal and state statutes, engage local enforcement, and outside stakeholders (local governments, nonprofit organizations, think tanks) to understand how they collect their information. By understanding the scale and scope of the threat, state leaders can develop a more targeted strategy.

Data Feedback Loop

Strategy: Collect data on targeted violence activity in the state.

Purpose: To ensure that policy makers and leaders have the information they need to make informed decisions when allocating resources and developing strategies.

Guiding Principles for Collecting Data

Data Sources & Key Partners

  • Connect with human rights groups that may have records on hate crimes or other relevant incidents that may not be reported to government agencies.
  • Connect with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons and/or state prisons to identify individuals convicted of targeted violence-related offenses who are set for release.
  • Engage the state fusion center and joint terrorism task forces/law enforcement agencies to access their data streams.

Approaches to Data Collection

  • Work with local officials to identify potential violent extremists or extremist groups. For example, inquire as to whether there have been violent threats to government employees or elected officials.
  • Develop and disseminate survey questions to assess targeted-violence-related activities, with input from civil rights and civil liberties lawyers prior to engaging local officials.
  • Encourage local law enforcement agencies to report hate crimes to the FBI.
  • Consult with authors (government, nonprofit organizations, think tanks) of public reports on targeted violence to determine how they collect their information (see “Challenges with Collecting Accurate Data?”) prior to using it to inform the state’s programs or strategy.
Challenges with Collecting Accurate Data

A challenge with collecting accurate data on targeted violence is the difference in definitions used for various types of violence. Without a uniformly accepted definition of targeted violence, measuring its pervasiveness is a challenge. Moreover, the inability to define the threat is further complicated by the lack of a national data center to survey, track, and aggregate this information.

Organizations such as START, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have databases that track terrorist attacks, convictions, hate crimes and related incidents, but their data may differ based on collection methods or definitions used. Understanding these differences is critical when comparing databases.

For example,

  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may define “terrorism” or “hate crime” differently than federal and state statutes.
  • The FBI and other government agencies may lack accurate data on domestic terrorists or hate crime incidents because of underreporting. Organizations like ADL and SPLC track incidents that may not be reported to the FBI and other government agencies.
  • States should be aware that some NGOs may track lawful activities due to their association with perceived extremist ideologies, including “rallies” or “flyering” – the act of posting hate-filled flyers or promoting violent extremist groups. Be sure to consider civil rights, civil liberties, privacy and fair information practice principles when leveraging this data.
Databases for Cataloging Incidents of Targeted Violence

Step 3: Developing Evaluation Metrics

A primary criticism of previous countering violent extremism programs is use of insufficient metrics, inadequate transparency on outcomes, and lack of scientific rigor. Establishing evaluation metrics is important to validate the methods of your state targeted violence program and allows for replicability across other states. This is why it is important to have standard and uniform definitions across states to describe and measure state targeted violence efforts. This chapter provides actions and guiding principles for proactively developing outcomes and outputs when creating a statewide strategy.

For a resource on developing an evaluation framework, please see State Targeted Violence Prevention: Programming & Key Performance Indicators.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Developing Evaluation Metrics

Action: Examine prevention programs that have been scientifically measured, and determine how those evaluations could be applicable to the state’s goals and strategies.

Guiding Principles: Ensure that the study was conducted by a neutral third party, and identify where the evaluators received their funding.

Action: Identify the motivations of participants who attend meetings or workshops.

Guiding Principles:

Consider the following questions:

  • Is this the intended audience?
  • Is there consistent, long-term follow up to identify whether participants retained the information that was presented to them?

Action: Determine when quantitative or qualitative analyses are more effective to use.

Guiding Principles: Consider if quantitative analysis is difficult to conduct with small sample sizes (i.e., fewer than 30 participants); qualitative analysis may be more appropriate.

Action: Differentiate between process measures (e.g., documents produced, meetings held, people contacted) and outcome measures (e.g., surveys, interviews, studies).

Guiding Principles:

  • Allow a third, neutral party to conduct the evaluation, and ensure that the process is transparent.
  • Partner with universities and colleges to conduct evaluations.

Action: Include outcomes that do not focus exclusively on counterfactuals (e.g., “X people were trained on preventing targeted violence” rather than “X programs prevented individuals from mobilizing toward violence).

Step 4: Creating a Sustained Community Partnership Model

Whether a state is in the early phases of creating a PTV program or has a robust program in place, educating stakeholders and the public about targeted violence and the roles they play in PTV is important. This chapter details how states building a PTV program strengthens relationships with key constituencies, provides transparency into governmental activities and articulates how the program can protect and balance civil rights, civil liberties and privacy.

Developing A Messaging Strategy

Strategy: Develop a messaging strategy.

Purpose: To ensure that stakeholders and the public are aware of targeted violence, why targeted violence must be addressed and the state’s strategy to adress it.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Messaging the Strategy

Actions: Refrain from using binary terms (e.g., success/failure, winning/losing).

Guiding Principles: Be clear on the objectives and avoid vague formulations to reduce ambiguity. Use declarative language such as “This program will provide resources to underserved communities.”

Actions: Avoid jargon. Select key programmatic language.

Guiding Principles: Avoid words such as “demobilization” or “deradicalization.” The public may define words differently or may not see the utility in a prevention program if they misunderstand the intent.

Actions: Determine how the intended audience receives information and terminology they connect with.

Guiding Principles:

  • Identify central themes in tailoring messages for different stakeholders, such as families, law enforcement and local leaders.
  • Focus on positive and empowering messages rather than scare tactics.
  • Be prepared to receive criticism. Prepare responses and be open to changing the approach based on valid critiques.

Actions: Provide training for communication offices within government agencies on how to discuss PTV. (See below for communicating when an incident occurs.) Consider offering similar training to nonprofit organizations.

Guiding Principles: Educate legislators on terms and definitions.

Communicating When an Incident Occurs
  • Create a communications plan for the governor and local officials that outlines the state’s role and strategy.
  • Provide a template of talking points for the governor, key senior state officials, and local officials to use on the day of — and in the days that follow — an act of targeted violence.
  • Advise the governor and local officials to use the same terms to refer to all incidents, regardless of ideology. The state and locality should refrain from using the label “terrorism” until evidence supports that claim. If the evidence shows that the individual responsible for the incident was inspired by an ideology that does not have foreign ties, consult the prosecutors to determine whether the perpetrator can be labeled a “domestic terrorist,” even if the suspect cannot be charged as such. This approach sends a strong message to the public that all involved will be considered terrorists, regardless of their ideology, if it is proven that they intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government through intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
  • When charges are brought, explain to the public why the perpetrator is being charged with that particular crime (e.g., manslaughter rather than a hate crime).
  • Collaborate with law enforcement on how to frame press conferences when dealing with potential hate crime, domestic terrorism and internationally inspired cases (e.g., Al-Qaeda or ISIS inspired).

Engaging With Necessary Stakeholders

Strategy: Provide information to government entities and the public about targeted violence and the government’s role in preventing it.

Purpose: Detail how the state’s approach may differ from past countering violent extremism programs to dispel misinformation about initiatives or programming.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Informing Stakeholders

Action: Detail the facts, misinformation and unknowns about targeted violence.

Guiding Principles:

  • Describe how the state’s strategy employs a violence prevention approach that includes all forms of targeted violence.
  • Emphasize that the state’s PTV strategy involves a multidisciplinary team, not just law enforcement, because it requires multidisciplinary actions. Further, describe when law enforcement is and is not involved.
  • Clarify the role that federal entities, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, play.
  • Convey that the state is focused on preventing violence, not on deradicalizing individuals. Define the difference (i.e., preventing violence focuses on behavioral changes; deradicalization focuses on cognitive changes).
  • Acknowledge past shortcomings and narrow focus of countering violent extremism programs, such as focusing predominately on Muslim and minority communities.

Action: Describe the issue.

Guiding Principles:

  • Provide statistics to demonstrate why the state should take an approach that includes all forms of targeted violence. Even though one factor may be more prevalent than others in a state or locality, it is important to highlight all forms of targeted violence to convey that targeted violence may be motivated by various ideologies.
  • Understand where the state derives its statistics; organizations may have different definitions for acts of targeted violence.
  • Frame the targeted violence in terms of opportunities for solutions in states rather than just a problem (e.g., Stories of Success)

Action: Clarify what constitutes an act of targeted violence.

Guiding Principles:

  • For example, consider using “violent white supremacists,” not “alt-right” because the former refers to those committed to violence. Similarly, when referring to Islamic extremism, consider using “Al-Qaeda inspired” or “ISIS inspired.” Doing so avoids implying that a religion is to blame for a violent act.
  • Explain that it is not illegal to hold extremist views. Carrying out or inciting violence for the ideology, however, is illegal.

Action: Highlight the roles and responsibilities of the agencies and stakeholders involved in the state’s PTV strategy.

Guiding Principles:

  • Assume that state and local agencies do not know each other’s responsibilities. Also, ensure that the public is clear on the roles of agencies, especially law enforcement agencies.
  • Explain policies that may be confusing, unknown or misrepresented (e.g., educate the public about proper procedures, regulations and protocols for leading a peaceful protest).
  • Help local entities explain the government’s roles and responsibilities in violence prevention to establish reasonable expectations, which can help ensure that communities do not think they were ignored or failed by the government.
  • Clarify what the government can and cannot do. For example, it cannot determine acceptable or unacceptable ideas.
  • Create a public, online map to track where the team has partnerships or has initiated programs to foster transparency.

Action: Enhance partnerships between the state and media outlets, including TV, radio, print, college media outlets and local websites.

Guiding Principles:

  • Consider hosting roundtables with media organizations to discuss the terminology and definitions the state uses.
  • Connect media organizations with the stakeholders identified in the state’s strategy.
  • Inform media outlets of the services the government and its partners provide.
  • Ensure that media know that the state has a strategy to proactively combat targeted violence.
  • Provide case studies of successful preventing targeted violence efforts.

Action: Create or use a communication channel through which citizens can submit their concerns about government agencies’ services or nonprofit programs.

Guiding Principles:

  • Ensure that the communication mechanism is an active feedback loop.
  • Establish a mechanism by which citizens can voice their concerns and problems without having to go through law enforcement.
  • Teach people how to report acts of targeted violence.
  • Advertise local government agencies’ contact information: Do community members know where to call about trash removal? About fixing a pothole? About finding used needles in a park?
  • Ask about the social, economic or political barriers that inhibit or obstruct communication with the public: How does the state help localities overcome those barriers? Which institutions and relationships, other than police-community relations, need to be strengthened?
  • Use this channel to identify the resources that would be helpful or unnecessary.
Countermessaging vs. Alternative Narratives
  • Countermessaging consists of creating counterpoints to an ideology through various media (e.g., online videos). States should be cautious about engaging in this type of messaging to avoid infringing on First Amendment rights. States should welcome different viewpoints and create spaces where different stakeholders can engage with subject matter experts within those organizations.
  • States could engage in promoting alternative narratives alongside non-governmental organizations. “Alternative narratives” are messages that do not address specific ideologies but instead highlight specific values (e.g., freedom of speech). This messaging can include highlighting the Bill of Rights, government services or community organizations that provide social services within a locality. Further, this messaging should clarify how government functions and how individuals can become active in politics or government (e.g., how to register to vote, how to find information about attending city council meetings).

Step 5: Enhancing Current Violence Prevention Programs

Several state, local, nonprofit and private organizations operate violence prevention programs in cities and counties. Some of these organizations have longstanding relationships with locals and a strong understanding of their challenges. Further, these organizations may provide services that address the risk factors for an individual behaving violently or enhance protective factors that reduce the risk of violence. Rather than building separate, distinct programs, states may be more successful with their PTV strategy if they integrate their efforts with existing programs. This chapter discusses how states can engage these organizations, identify their potential role in PTV and strengthen their capabilities.

Empowering Institutions, Professionals and Civic Engagement Programs

Strategy: Engage and empower organizations, institutions and professionals that offer civic engagement programs, social services or violence prevention services.

Purpose: To enhance the states’ and organizations’ prevention capacities.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Empowering Institutions, Professionals and Civic Engagement Programs

Action: Convene local leaders and practitioners such as teachers, coaches, mental health experts, substance use disorder (SUD) experts, religious leaders, student resource officers, university administrators, and law enforcement who need to be informed of the state’s strategy.

Guiding Principles:

  • Identify existing engagements to avoid duplication of effort and engage underserved. audiences.
  • Solicit feedback from stakeholders about the state’s strategic plan.
  • Secure community’s support in identifying someone mobilizing toward violence.
  • Address stakeholder concerns about liability for reporting (e.g., Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and offer potential solutions.
  • Identify additional opportunities to support stakeholders.

Action: Engage kindergarten through grade 12 schools and higher education.

Guiding Principles:

  • Identify after-school programs that lack resources or are at risk of shutting down. Determine whether alternative or free services exist for students if those programs end.
  • Connect universities to competitions that encourage students to create alternative messaging techniques (e.g., the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism initiative).

Action: Help organizations and government agencies offer their services to a broader audience.

Guiding Principles:

  • Promote social services in the languages that predominate in a given locality (e.g., provide the driver’s license test in multiple languages).
  • Identify challenges that hinder the public’s ability to connect to social services. This challenge is complex and has several facets, but states, local governments and organizations should identify ways to enhance access to services.
  • Appeal to all ages, not just youth.

Action: Work with ongoing local initiatives to increase access to mental health and SUD services.

Guiding Principles:

  • Provide a training module that local governments and organizations can use to train adults who interact with children so that they can better recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness (e.g., a mental health first aid kit).
  • Provide a mental health first aid kits in workplace environments.
  • Determine how to build capacity for person-centered and team-based care. Then, identify telehealth approaches to increasing access if capacity is limited at the local level.
  • Destigmatize the notion of seeking mental health treatment as a sign of weakness.

Action: Educate the public on how they can be more involved in the community.

Guiding Principles:

  • Educate them on how they can get involved politically by attending city/county council meetings, talking with their elected officials, or registering to vote.
  • Inform them of other opportunities to get involved in their community by visiting a community center, participating in recreational activities, or volunteering at a local non-profit (e.g. a food bank).

Action: Promote media literacy.

Guiding Principles:

  • Explain how the public can offer corrections to inaccurate media reports in the event a mistake is made.
  • Clarify what the government can and cannot regulate in the media.
Current PTV Programs

Life After Hate

Former members of violent far-right extremist organizations created the nonprofit Life After Hate to provide four types of services:

  • Research: Engage in academic research to understand individual-level pathways into and out of extremism, enabling organizations to develop strategies and solutions to prevent ideologically inspired violence.
  • Education: Support schools, community-based organizations (CBOs), NGOs and other organizations committed to understanding, teaching, healing, preventing and countering racism and ideologically inspired violence in their communities.
  • Outreach: Help radicalized individuals disengage from extremist movements and begin the process of deradicalization. Their unique experiences position them to understand the challenges and support needed to help those who want to leave or who have already left an extremist movement on their own. These outreach members can also support community practitioners (e.g., counselors, social workers, faith leaders) and families who are working with individuals who want to change.
  • Consulting: Provide subject matter expertise to develop ideas and innovative solutions where methods do not currently exist

Colorado Resilience Collaborative

This interdisciplinary initiative addresses identity-based violence inspired by radicalization and discrimination based on race/ethnicity, nationality, faith and ideology. The collaborative uses a trauma-informed, culturally competent and inclusive approach.

Colorado Resilience Collaborative (CRC) provides four types of services:

  • Partnerships: Develop partnerships and convene community members.
  • Clinical services: Offer clinical consultation to professionals and CBOs so that they can provide prevention support and education.
  • Education: Provide educational services.
  • Research: Generate expertise in a socioecological approach to address identity-based violence.

CRC works with three collaboratives to deliver these services:

  • Advisory Council: Serves as a working group for convening ideas, partners and knowledge to aid in identity-based violence reduction efforts. The council provides strategic guidance in quarterly forums, consults with community agencies to connect radicalization prevention efforts, and increases capacity to reduce community violence.
  • Psychosocial Collaborative: Convenes mental health practitioners to address identity-based violence resulting from radicalization and discrimination.
  • Research Collaborative: Provides guidance on developing a research agenda for CRC.

ADAMS Center

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center is a District of Columbia-based nonprofit that provides Islamic services and interfaith programming. Key to the ADAMS Center’s work are civic engagement programs, which are designed to establish and nurture fellowship with diverse organizations; other faith communities; the community at large; and local, state and nationally elected officials and government staff.

The ADAMS Center is also a founder and sustaining member of the Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Advisory Committee (AMSAC) Group, which works with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on national security and civil rights. Throughout the year, the ADAMS Center invites government officials and candidates from all area districts to visit the center and all its satellite and branch offices, to speak to community members after Friday prayers and to interact with ADAMS Center leadership with the goal of increasing community civic engagement and responsibility.

In addition, the Adams Center holds specific events like the ADAMS Annual Civic Picnic, Interfaith Iftar, 9/11 Unity Walk and other programs where interfaith fellowship and official government representation are important for building an engaged partnership with the community.

Montana Human Rights Network

The Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) is a grassroots, state-based human rights organization working to promote democratic values such as pluralism, equality and justice; to challenge bigotry and intolerance; and to organize communities to speak out in support of democratic principles and institutions. MHRN fulfills this mission by:

  • Organizing local human rights groups.
  • Monitoring and reporting on the activities of radical right-wing groups in Montana.
  • Developing and pursuing public policy initiatives and holding public officials accountable with respect to human rights.
  • Conducting community education on human rights issues.
  • Working to increase community support and legal protection for groups of people targeted for violence.
Community Policing

Countless articles and reports have been written about community policing, with some directly related to PTV. Those reports, justifiably, tended to focus on local police departments because community policing, as the name implies, occurs at the local and community levels, not at the state level. States’ ability to influence and direct community policing vary; yet, to the extent possible, states should engage with local police departments to increase social cohesion, transparency and procedural justice efforts that support prevention.

States could consider the following questions when collaborating with local police departments:

  • What is the role of state police in supporting local police departments’ community engagement efforts?
  • Does your state have an example of successful community policing to highlight and build from?
  • What type of inventory of community policing models exists at your state administering agency for criminal justice?
  • What law enforcement training should be required (either at the academy or in service) related to awareness of violent extremism, community engagement, implicit bias, hate crimes or others?
  • What are the state police department’s current community engagement efforts? Are community engagement functions housed separately from investigative units?
  • When state police are investigating an incident of targeted violence, do officers have connections to civilian liaison groups that can help respond to or deal with impacts in the community?
  • Do the state police have a hate crimes unit? If so, are that unit’s officers aware of incidents of targeted violence? What is their relationship with local police departments?

Step 6: Connecting Individuals With Resources

To counteract targeted violence, states can utilize tertiary prevention mechanisms to prevent the spread of or relapse into violence. One way to accomplish this is by reengaging an individual with the community through referral systems — locally and at the state level. For instance, in many small towns, law enforcement may be the first number people call, even for non-law enforcement issues, because the local police may be the only service available 24/7. States could provide information about state and local services that law enforcement can reference to assist callers.

Similarly, states can work with suicide hotlines, school safety lines and other intervention-type lines to provide guidance for when law enforcement should be involved and identify state services pertinent to the situation. Finally, states can provide lessons learned and guidance to locals who are considering creating behavioral threat assessment teams (BTATs) or multidisciplinary services teams. Such teams can assess an individual with risk factors and connect that individual to or provide that individual with appropriate services.

This section identifies actions and guiding principles for achieving these objectives.

Connecting Individuals To Resources

Strategy: Identify or create access to prevention resources for stakeholders.

Purpose: To connect people to prevention services.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Connecting Individuals to Resources

Action: Identify organizations that can create a crisis line or use an existing crisis line to help those individuals mobilizing toward violence or the family, friends and peers of an individual mobilizing toward violence.

Guiding Principles

  • Before advocating for the establishment of a new crisis line, identify preexisting lines (e.g., suicide hotlines, school safety lines) and determine whether training the call takers on preventing targeted violence (PTV) would satisfy a locality’s needs. For instance, California’s 2-1-1 program provides information and support in times of disaster, such as evacuation, shelter, food, medical and recovery information, and provides public officials with feedback from callers about changing conditions.
  • Identify and address potential liability issues.
  • Separate law enforcement personnel from the crisis line, but identify situations for which law enforcement should be notified (e.g., duty to warn).
  • Focus on connecting people with government services or nonprofit organizations that provide medical, mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) services or other prevention services.
  • Create a resource guide for 911 to help call operators connect callers to non-law enforcement resources.
  • Ensure there is coordination between 988 crisis call centers and law enforcement organizations regarding individuals who make contact concerning those who pose a threat to others, in addition to preparing other emergency call centers to triage similar calls.

Action: Strengthen prevention networks (e.g., suicide prevention, bullying prevention, drug prevention), and use relationships to train families, coaches, teachers, counselors and so on to engage with someone they perceive may be mobilizing toward violence.

Guiding Principles: Conduct training sessions on potential risk factors. These sessions can foster discussions about behaviors that are not valid indicators of risk (e.g., someone attending a mosque more frequently) and behaviors that may be legitimate cause for concern (e.g., SUD).

Action: Create an online forum or portal that lists the organizations and government agencies that provide PTV services.

Guiding Principles:

  • Connect complementary organizations (if those connections do not already exist).
  • Create a resource map that identifies local and state resources; then, assess whether those organizations can provide services to those who request them (i.e., do they have the capacity to handle an increased volume of requests).
  • Make sure law enforcement agencies know who to contact if they are dealing with a noncriminal individual who requires non-law enforcement services.
  • Identify state or local subject matter experts on targeted violence who can help inform practitioners, institutions and others pro bono. For a program to be sustainable, however, long-term funding may be needed to support a network of providers.
  • Use the resource list mentioned in the chapter “Establishing Governance and Strategy.”

Assessing the Feasibility of Creating Local Behavioral Threat Assessment or Case Management Teams

Strategy: Assess the feasibility of local government or nongovernmental organizations creating interdisciplinary bodies composed of local health and human services agencies, religious scholars, school leaders, business associations and local technology leaders that could recommend prevention services.

Purpose: To facilitate the creation of behavioral threat assessment teams or case management teams.

Questions and Guiding Principles for Assessing the Feasibility of Creating Local Behavioral Threat Assessment or Case Management Teams

Questions: What are the team’s role and functions locally? Would the team determine whether a person poses a safety threat? Who should be on the team?

Guiding Principles:

  • Potential members include mental health and substance use disorder (SUD), social services, legal, human resources, administrative or other staff relevant to the entity establishing the team.
  • Establish protocols for each team member (e.g., who will conduct the interviews).
  • Discuss the pros and cons of having law enforcement on the team, and create a threshold for when law enforcement would become involved in a case.
  • Consider ad hoc members, such as mental health providers; SUD professionals; an immediate supervisor; a student of concern’s teacher; a family member, friend or intimate partner; or clergy with whom the person of concern has a pastoral relationship.

Questions: What is the process by which someone who has witnessed or referred concerning behaviors can create an intervention program for an individual? How will the team operate (e.g., advisory or implementing actions)? What event initiates a case? Should this threshold be low or high?

Guiding Principles:

  • Establish an intake process, and advertise that process to the locality or organization that will use it.
  • Establish recurring meetings.
  • Establish information-sharing protocols where the reporting party can be anonymous and determine how recommendations will be communicated to stakeholders. Teams must establish a process for obtaining consent before they can establish information-sharing protocols. The team should also discuss whether information will be anonymized.
  • Establish recordkeeping guidelines.
  • Consider how and where the team will store the information.

Questions: How will people contact the team (e.g., school or suicide hotline)? Will reports be anonymous? How will the availability of reporting methods be shared with the public?

Questions: What would the team examine about the referred individual?

Guiding Principles:

  • Examinations could include:
  • Motives or goals.
  • Concerning, unusual or threatening communications.
  • Inappropriate interest in weapons, school shooters or mass attacks; access to weapons.
  • Stressful events.
  • Impact of emotional and developmental issues.
  • Evidence of desperation, hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.
  • Viewing violence as an option for solving problems.
  • Whether others are concerned about the individual’s behaviors; the individual’s capacity to carry out an attack.
  • Evidence of planning for an attack.
  • Consistency between the individual’s statements and actions.
  • Protective factors, such as positive or social influences.

Questions: What management options does the team have for the referred individual?

Guiding Principles:

  • Third-party intervention.
  • Direct interview.
  • Administrative actions, such as probation, suspension or expulsion.
  • Civil actions, such as trespass warnings, restraining orders and orders of protection.
  • Criminal enforcement, such as arrest and prosecution.
  • Setting specific boundaries and limits.
  • Total enforcement of all rules, limits, boundaries, laws and orders.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Motivational interviewing.
  • Mentoring.
  • Prosocial after-school programming.
  • Mental health commitments.
  • SUD treatment.

Questions: Which groups already provide forums in which stakeholders can discuss challenges?

Guiding Principles: Coordinate with state agencies’ legal counsels to review potential liability issues in state and federal law (e.g., Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).

Questions: Can the BTAT discourage violence over deradicalization/demobilization? The former focuses on preventing someone from acting out violently, while the latter focuses on changing someone’s beliefs.

Guiding Principles: Assess the barriers that prevent the public from reaching out to help someone they know may be mobilizing toward violence (e.g., language barriers, distrust in government, not being taken seriously).

Questions: How can team members foster dialogue between the BTAT and federal entities? Which state or grant opportunities can localities and organizations use for BTATs or prevention programs?

Guiding Principles: Develop strategies with state legal counsels to limit potential liability concerns.

Questions: How can this team be sustained through federal, state, local funding or through grant opportunities?

Guiding Principles: Assess the capacity of government, NGOs, or other groups to handle an increasing case load.

Risk and Protective Factors

Whether an individual possesses these factors, however, does not necessarily imply that he or she will commit an act of targeted violence. Further, although most of these risk factors (e.g., domestic abuse, substance use disorder, isolationism) warrant mitigation and prevention measures, practitioners will need to ensure adequate protections (e.g., protecting civil rights, civil liberties and privacy). Finally, these factors should not be presented in a check box format: Stakeholders and the public must not assume that individuals who may possess a certain number of factors must be placed in an intervention program. As the U.S. Department of Justice states:

“It is impossible to absolutely quantify the weight of each individual factor. Each case is a unique combination of personal and environmental factors which preclude assigning all relevant factors equal weight. The urge to quantify and calculate an assessment like a math problem must be resisted. Threat assessment envisions a holistic assessment of the person of concern, the potential target [intended for violence], the situation, and the potential setting for an incident.”

Which risk and protective factors should be identified? How will the behavioral threat assessment team or case management team ensure that this identification does not encroach on an individual’s civil rights, civil liberties and privacy?


  • Access to lethal means.
  • Alcohol or substance misuse.
  • Anger or hostility to others.
  • Contact with charismatic leaders who justify violence.
  • Direct threats.
  • Fragmented cultural identity.
  • Online language (e.g., justifying violence).
  • Psychological or personality disturbances.
  • Sudden withdrawal from life patterns.
  • Victim of child maltreatment.
  • Violent or suicidal behavior, past or current.


  • Association with aggressive or delinquent peers.
  • Current relationship/marital status.
  • Emotionally unsupportive family.
  • Family history of violence or suicide.
  • Financial or work stress.
  • Fractured vs. full family structures.
  • Friends or family who engage in violence.
  • Intimate partner violence.


  • High local crime levels.
  • Inadequate social services.
  • Limited economic opportunities.
  • Low social cohesion/connectedness.
  • Poor education systems.
  • Poverty.
  • Situational factors.


  • Access to lethal means (firearms).
  • Cultural norms that support violence.
  • Discrimination.
  • Economic inequality.
  • Gender inequality.
  • Global, national or regional armed conflict.
  • Rapid social change.
  • Stigma regarding mental distress and help-seeking.

Step 7: Disengaging From Violence

Tertiary prevention efforts should occur in state and local correctional facilities for those convicted of a targeted-violence crime (e.g., terrorism-related crimes; hate crime; crimes committed to further an ideology, belief or religion) or who exhibit risk factors that may mobilize them toward violence upon release. Work in this field is in its early stages in the international arena, and “current national efforts in this area are quite modest,” according to RAND. Further, in a comprehensive review of U.S. countering violent extremism efforts, RAND found that:

“Because the commonality in the types of programming required for individuals convicted of extremist-related violence had significant overlap with programming needed for “standard violent offenders,” there was a range of views among our interviewees about the need for specialized programming for individuals convicted of extremist violence versus adapting usual programming to meet their needs.”

Therefore, in addition to this chapter’s actions and guiding principles, states could review their current in-prison programs, those that support reentry or other post-release programs to determine how they could be used for targeted-violence offenders.

This section details actions and guiding principles that states can consider to help individuals disengage from violence. It is important to understand that this is untested area that may require experimentation and innovation.

Creating New Or Using Existing Reentry Programs

Strategy: Create new or modify existing reentry programs for individuals leaving correctional facilities who have committed an act of targeted violence.

Purpose: To prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from reengaging in targeted violence.

Actions and Guiding Principles for Creating New or Using Existing Reentry Programs

Action: State correctional facilities should conduct an inventory of in-person, reentry, and post-release programs directed toward those who committed acts of targeted violence.

Action: While incarcerated, individuals who committed an act of targeted violence should be identified for specific programming prior to release.

Guiding Principles: A person’s level of risk for committing an act of targeted violence may not be easily assessed. States should work with correctional officers to determine who could fall within the targeted-violence category and be transparent about that determination with the person identified as at-risk.

Action: When developing reentry plans for incarcerated individuals convicted of an act of targeted violence, reentry planners should review available community resources and connect them with a state or local behavioral threat assessment team, if one exists.

Guiding Principles:

  • Consider First Amendment protections, including religious freedom and freedom of expression
  • The state should be concerned with ensuring that perpetrators disengage from the need to commit violence rather than changing their belief system.
  • Work with federal agencies to identify federal detainees set to be released into a locality

For more information or technical assistance on implementing the roadmap, contact Jessica Davenport ( or Phil Nichols (



Lauren Stienstra, Former Program Director, Homeland Security, NGA Center for Best Practices

Carl Amritt, Former Senior Policy Analyst, Homeland Security, NGA Center for Best Practices


The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) thanks the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for its support of this publication.

The authors also thank Jeff McLeod for editorial review and guidance, and former NGA staff who have substantially contributed including Michael Garcia and Alisha Powell.

The authors appreciate the valuable insights from: Eric Rosand, Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism. The authors also thank Erika Fitzpatrick and Church Street Editorial for editing support, and Matt Mansfield and Kurt Cunningham with MG Strategy + Design for designing the guide.