A comparison of two structured professional judgment tools for violent extremism and their relevance in the French context

Published date01 April 2018
Date01 April 2018
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
European Journal of Probation
2018, Vol. 10(1) 3 –27
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/2066220317749140
A comparison of two
structured professional
judgment tools for violent
extremism and their relevance
in the French context
Martine Herzog-Evans
University of Reims, France
France has repeatedly been hit by terrorist attacks making the use of a structured
professional judgement tool essential. Two such tools currently are used in Europe:
VERA (Canada) and ERG 22+ (England and Wales). We compare these tools to assess
which one would better suit the French context. We find that they have a lot in
common in terms of their general content and intrinsic value. However, VERA’s main
understanding of terrorism is ideology, whereas ERG’s perceives it as being essentially
about identity. ERG was the first tool to introduce a measure for psychopathology;
only VERA contains a list of protective factors. The two instruments were developed
in similar ways with, for ERG, more emphasis on extremist offenders’ casework.
Crucially, ERG 22+ has been developed on the basis of UK cases that are closer to the
French extremist populations, with a legal threshold for what constitutes a terrorist
or an assimilated terrorist offence, which is similarly low. Lastly, ERG’s structure is
simpler and contains less items requiring access to classified data, a crucial factor in
a jurisdiction with little interagency information sharing. Although the two tools are
intrinsically comparable, ERG seems overall better suited to the French context. This
exploratory conclusion ought to be confirmed with field comparisons.
ERG 22+, France, structured professional judgement, terrorism, VERA
Corresponding author:
Martine Herzog-Evans, PhD, Law faculty, University of Reims, 57 bis rue Pierre Taittinger, CS 8000,
51096 REIMS, Cedex, France.
Email: martineeevans@gmail.com
749140EJP0010.1177/2066220317749140European Journal of ProbationHerzog-Evans
Original Article
4 European Journal of Probation 10(1)
France has been subjected to repeated terrorist attacks since 2012, and their numbers
have increased since the Charley Hebdo attack in January 2015, making France the most
targeted western country in the world (Beuzé, 2017). This has had a huge economic (e.g.
Institute of Economic Peace, 2016), psychological (Goodwin et al., 2017) and even
physiological (Della Rosa et al., 2016) impact on the French population. Since these
events, many deradicalisation programmes have been put in place with the hope of pre-
venting further attacks from being committed by people who are already on the path
towards extremist violence. The need to assess the level of risk such people represent and
to understand exactly what their criminogenic or other needs are in order to better address
this phenomenon has become imperative.
In view of the still relatively small number of terrorists, and the even smaller number of
those who have been processed in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and have subsequently
been released, it is extremely difficult to develop a reliable risk assessment tool (Monahan,
2012). In spite of this difficulty, two different tools have been developed roughly within the
same time period and have been rolled out in a variety of countries notably in Europe, (Silke,
2014): a Canadian tool, VERA, developed independently by researchers (Pressman and
Flockton); and a British tool, ERG 22+, developed by a team of researchers (notably Lloyd
and Dean) for the National Offender Management Services (NOMS).
The French prison services have chosen VERA, as it is the only tool that is commercial-
ised, whereas NOMS has not tried to sell its product beyond its shores – although at the
time we are writing this article, they had been convinced by Minnesota’s probation services
to trial it there. Therefore, whether one is intrinsically better than the other, and secondly,
whether either one of them is better suited for the French context are valid questions.
One reason for this particular question is that there are grounds to believe that there have
been changes in the profiles of the terrorists that have recently targeted France (Ghenifi,
2014; Khosrokhavar, 2014a), inter alia, in terms of dual identity, psychopathology, delin-
quent or violent priors, other criminogenic or psycho-social needs, and perhaps also less
‘radicalism’ (Khosrokhavar, 2014b) or ideological beliefs (Benichou et al., 2015).
After presenting the challenges of building a risk assessment tool, and how VERA and
ERG were developed, this essay will try to ascertain how they compare generally and the
main differences in their items.
This article has been made possible thanks to the author’s role as a chief expert in the
development of a deradicalisation programme in Paris funded by the French prison ser-
vices. In the course of this work, she was trained by Elaine Pressman in the use of VERA.
Furthermore, NOMS sent this author all the material required for the use and understand-
ing of ERG, along with the scoring system, solely for educational purposes. Open access
to both tools is respectively available to developers (for VERA, Pressman, 2009;
Pressman and Flockton, 2012; for ERG 22+, NOMS, 2014). However, this article shall
focus on the latest versions of VERA without, of course, revealing the exact content of
the changes made in the most recent development of this tool.
The difficulties in the development of a valid tool
The development of a specific risk assessment tool is a very complex and difficult enter-
prise. The first reason for this is that although many risk factors have been put forward

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