out of sight, out of mind? the many harms of unrecorded prevent referrals
When it comes to Prevent referrals, Prevent Watch is in the unique position – through our support of clients from the early stages of Prevent engagement – of knowing their true impact. Three specific and unexceptional case examples illustrate the undocumented impact of Prevent.
Each year, since 2015, the Home Office publishes the number of Prevent referrals. The number of referrals per year averages at about 6000-7000 individuals. This brings the total number to date to over 45,000 individuals referred over the last eight years.
However, we can confidently say that this number is a gross underestimation of the true impact of Prevent, the harms of which begin to be felt at what we call the pre-referral stage.
There is an unknown number of individuals who have for all intents and purposes experienced Prevent or have even reached various stages of the Prevent process without being officially captured in the Home Office statistics.
People experience Prevent at the pre-referral stage. In fact, we believe the pre-referral stage is part of the Prevent pre-crime space, and it is a phenomenon with a deeply harmful effect on society.
At least a third of the cases we have seen at Prevent Watch would be considered a pre-referral for one of several reasons.
Prevent referrals that are stopped and not recorded
We have documented a number of Prevent referrals that have stopped early on in the Prevent pipeline and as a result have not been recorded in the Prevent Case Management system.
In one case, which has come to be known as ‘the Fortnit case’, a young child was referred to Prevent and a Prevent referral form filled out, but because the Prevent referral did not proceed beyond the initial police officer visit – before the officer realised it was a ‘misinformed referral’ – there was no information passed on to the Prevent team.
By the admission of the Prevent National Coordinator at the time via twitter, the case did not exist on the Prevent Database, With this, our thoughts were confirmed: not all Prevent referrals are logged onto the database, but they are for all intents and purposes experienced by children and families as referrals.
These instances are not reported as part of the annual Prevent statistics.
The Prevent referrals with no formal paper trails
In some cases Prevent officers have followed up on a Prevent referral, however when the individual has tried to seek the right to removal of their data when the referral has not proceeded further, they have been told that there is no evidence of their referral on numerous databases including the Prevent database.
One example of this is a young professional who had been interrogated by Prevent officers and when the individual later tried to get their data deleted (the person was unsure of what potential impact it could have when they applied for a higher security clearance position), the person was told there was no evidence of their referral anywhere.
This individual has been left without any closure, since the Prevent referral certainly occurred, and evidence of it may or may not turn up at a later point. This has left a sense of anxiety that not only permeated this job application process but remains to this day.
When individuals are threatened with a Prevent referral
The normalisation of Prevent has led to what we call the Prevent environment. The placement of Prevent under the banner of safeguarding has led to teachers threatening children with Prevent, and to a general environment where the threat of Prevent may be intended as well as unintended by numerous authorities.
One such example is that of a teenage Muslim school boy who was threatened with Prevent for his disruptive behaviour. He was informed by a member of staff at his school that he would be referred to Prevent, and when he told his parents they were distraught.
When the parents followed up with the school, they were told that Prevent had been threatened as a consequence of his behaviour, but no referral had been made.
An unmeasured impact that will play out in society
These examples are often underestimated in terms of their impact on people and society because Prevent is part of counter-terrorism. The impact of Prevent occurs at the moment of suspicion. Although, by law, you are not a suspect, in the eyes of the authority referring you or that threaten the referral, you are.
Even though they do not make the official statistics, they make an impact on those who experience them, as well as those close to them. An impact like this will never be captured in the statistics, nor is it appreciated by people working within Prevent and championing it.
That’s why the impact of Prevent goes far beyond the 45,000 individuals that have been officially referred to date.
These types of Prevent pre-referrals will only increase given the recent Shawcross recommendations, which include increasing the number of front line practitioners enacting the duty. Together with the recommendation to increase the focus on Islamist ideology, more misinformed referrals will flood the initial stages of Prevent.
This will further impact lives and trust between people and public services, but it will remain officially unseen and unmeasured. The social outcomes of this can only be counterproductive.