Homeland Security and the Inmate Population: The Risk and Reality of Islamic Radicalization in Prison
SPECIAL NEEDS OFFENDERS IN CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS, p. 431, Lior Gideon, ed., 2012
30 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2012 Last revised: 4 Jun 2013
Date Written: October 2, 2012
Since 9/11, commentators and policy makers have expressed alarm about an emerging threat within the prison systems of the West — a threat of terrorist attacks carried out by radicalized inmates released into society. This chapter explores what we know about the risk of Islamic radicalization in prison and the effectiveness of policies that have been implemented in response to that risk. Although the principal focus of this study is the United States, the approaches of several European nations — the U.K., France, Spain, and the Netherlands — are considered where relevant.
Our conclusion is a largely negative one: We know very little about the degree of risk posed by radicalization in the prison system. Indeed, little is known about even the most basic details of the issue, such as the number of Muslims in the prison system or their demographics. A similar conclusion can be made about the current policy response of governments to the perceived risk. Commentators have listed a range of options for responding to the threat of radicalization, including increased screening of Muslim chaplains in prison, restrictions on religious literature available to inmates, and the segregation of radicalized offenders. Although some of these changes may seem commonsensical, and all appear well-intentioned, there remains a significant lack of careful thinking about the rationales for many widely shared prescriptions.
Our ultimate conclusion is that a broad-based commitment is needed on the part of Western governments to gather evidence about the real risks of radicalization in prison and to formulate a coordinated response after that evidence has been gathered. This will require change in orientation within the United States, in particular, which has lagged behind Britain and other nations in collecting this kind of information. In light of the powerful emotions that are provoked by the fear of prison radicalization, the failure to move ahead with this kind of research effort will mean that policy will inevitably be carried along not by reason, but by the political passions inevitably at play.
Keywords: Terrorism, Radicalization, Extremist, Corrections, Prison, Prisoner, Inmate, Rehabilitation, Al Qaeda
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation