Risk Reduction in Terrorism Cases: Sentencing and the Post-Conviction Environment


  • Kelly Berkell Research Fellow, Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice


Terrorist Recidivism, Disengagement, Violent Extremism, Countering Violent Extremism, CVE


This article explores existing underpinnings in the United States criminal justice system for post-conviction risk reduction measures in terrorism cases.  The purpose of these measures is to reduce the risk of future criminality by those already convicted of violent extremist offenses, thereby protecting public safety while also benefiting individuals and communities. Specifically, integrating specialized risk and needs assessments into terrorism cases at sentencing and during the corrections process constitutes one possible risk reduction measure.  When administered to individuals convicted of providing material support or other terrorism-related offenses, rigorous evaluations can supply courts with information significant for sentencing and, when appropriate, structuring individualized rehabilitation approaches.  In addition to assessment tools, rehabilitation and reintegration programs constitute potential risk reduction measures.  Risk reduction programs would supplement and enhance, not replace, existing correctional methods including incarceration and supervised release.  The District of Minnesota federal court is pioneering a program of disengagement and deradicalization for terrorism defendants, and other courts likely will develop similar approaches.  However, appropriate judicial bodies have yet to adopt proactive roles in developing national policy guidance in this area. This article aims to further the discussion of reducing recidivism risk in terrorism cases by clarifying the legal and technical issues that would require resolution as prerequisites for the consideration and potential development of post-conviction programming.

Author Biography

Kelly Berkell, Research Fellow, Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Email: kberkell@jjay.cuny.edu, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Center on Terrorism, 524 W 59th St, New York, NY 10019.  The author would like to thank Martin Horn, Daniel Koehler, Kevin Lowry, Andrew Luger, and Jeff Mellow for invaluable insights, as well as Charles Strozier and Peter Romaniuk for wise counsel. The views expressed are solely those of the author.


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Order, United States v. Warsame (D. Minn. Mar. 2, 2016) (Crim. No. 16-37), https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/extremism.gwu.edu/files/Warsame%20Order%2C%203-2-16.pdf (accessed: December 25, 2017)

Sentencing Hearing Transcript, United States v. Musse, 0:15-cr-00049-MJD-FLN, Document 764 (Nov. 15, 2016)

Sentencing Hearing Transcript, United States v. Yusuf, 0:15-cr-00046-MJD, Document 104 (Nov. 23, 2016)

Sentencing Order, U.S. v. Shelton Thomas Bell, Case 3:13-cr-00141-TJC-JRK (M.D. Fl. Jan. 14, 2015), Document 91, 39, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/2602.pdf (accessed: December 25, 2017) (emphasis added)

U.S. DIST. CT., DISTRICT OF MINN., Terrorism Disengagement and Deradicalization Program, two-page document supplied to the author by Judge Michael J. Davis’s Judicial Assistant

United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 245 (2005)

United States v. Meskini, 319 F.3d 88, 92 (2d Cir. 2003)