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A Simple Checklist, That Is All It Takes: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Field Trial on Improving the Treatment of Suspected Terrorists by the Police

NCJ Number
Journal of Experimental Criminology Volume: 17 Dated: 2021 Pages: 629-55
Brandon Langley; Barak Ariel; Justice Tankebe; Alex Sutherland; Marcus Beale; Roni Factor; Cristobal Weinborn
Date Published
27 pages

The authors discuss the impacts of using a Procedural Justice checklist for enhancing law enforcement agent legitimacy and terrorism-suspect cooperation; they discuss the need for this kind of research, their methodology and procedures, and research outcomes.


When it comes to interviewing suspected terrorists, global evidence points to harsh interrogation procedures, despite the likelihood of false positives. How can the state maintain an effective counterterrorism policy while simultaneously protecting civil rights? Until now, the shroud of secrecy of “national security” practices has thwarted attempts by researchers to test apparatuses that engender fair interrogation procedures. The present study aims to test one approach: the use of a “procedural justice checklist” (PJ Checklist) in interviews of suspected terrorists by counterterrorism police officers in port settings. Using a clustered randomized controlled field test in a European democracy, the authors measured the effect of implementing PJ Checklists in counterterrorism police settings. With 65 teams of officers randomly assigned into treatment and control conditions, the authors compared post-interrogation surveys of suspects on the following topics: perceptions of legitimacy; obligations to obey the law; willingness to cooperate with the police; effectiveness of counterterrorism measures; distributive justice; feelings of social resistance to the state; and procedural justice. The authors used a series of multi-level linear, logistic, and ordered logit regression models to estimate the treatment effect, with Hedges’ g and odds ratios used for effect sizes. When compared with control conditions, implementing a policy of PJ Checklist caused statistically significant and large enhancement in all measured dimensions, including the willingness of suspects to obey the law, to cooperate with the police, distributive justice, effectiveness, procedural justice, and feelings of resistance towards the state. The authors conclude that PJ checklists offer a simple, cost effective, and scalable means of improving how state agents interact with terrorism suspects. Publisher Abstract Provided