By Luke Whyte
When Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin took the podium during an afternoon workshop at the 2009 American Correctional Association Summer Conference, the boisterous crowd of top level prison administrators and PhD-wielding psychologists fell suddenly, almost eerily, quiet.
Lappin was flanked by the International Corrections and Prisons Association President, Tony Cameron, and the Director General of Offender Programs and Reintegration with Correctional Service of Canada, Larry Motiuk.
Three of the most prominent men in modern corrections were about to lead one of the highest profile workshops of this year’s conference:
Radicalization in Prisons - An international perspective on terrorist recruitment.
“Radicalization is something we’ve dealt with since the day we let inmates out of their cells to communicate,” Lappin began. Yet, over the last decade, he continued, the game has changed, along with the players and the stakes.
Over the course of the two-hour workshop, Lappin, Cameron and Motiuk outlined an international methodology for approaching this new, high-stakes form of radicalization.
This article will break down that methodology into two parts:
1) Focusing on the international perspective presented by Motiuk and Cameron, part one will discuss the scope of the problem and the ideology of its participants
2) Based on an operational procedure outlined by Lappin, part two will discuss practical tactics and strategies for dealing with radicalization on a daily basis
Why the French are Reading the Koran
Muslims are Europe’s fastest growing cultural group. They make up 15 to 20 percent of the population, constituting around 12-16 million people. Further, Europe’s Muslim immigrants are often impoverished and undereducated, making them statistically more susceptible to terrorist recruitment.
Seeing that the scope of the issue was beyond their control, the French government asked its citizens to start reading – and learning the values of - the Koran.
What the French realized was that, once the policing of radicalization had moved beyond their control, the best offense became prevention through understanding.
Montuk and Cameron argued that, given the nature of the prison environment as an incubator for all forms of radicalism, a policy of “prevention through understanding” is critical in the fight against radicalization in correctional facilities.
Certainly, this argument holds merit with police officers too. Officers deal with a variety of marginalized populations on a daily basis, thus, are constantly in contact with folks who are more susceptible to terrorist recruitment than the general population.
Mandatory department-wide Koran classes are, of course, far from necessary, but by taking steps to learn what factors could cause radicalization in a particular neighborhood or cultural group (and the factors that could prevent it), we can decrease the discontent upon which radicalization breeds.
“In general, Muslim prisoners tend not to ‘act out’ with riots and such,” Cameron said. “So, by treating them well and encouraging participation in their religion, you undermine their incentive for radicalism.”
From a police officer, this requires fostering what Motiuk refers to as a “culturally-competent” attitude.
The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has developed a directory of cultural mediators, handbooks and intercultural conflicts management course to help better prepare officers to negotiate with a culturally diverse population. You can learn more about this at their Web site.
Make no mistake: Radicals do exist in our prisons and new ones are being trained all the time. Beyond understanding the factors that lead to radicalism, we need an operating procedure that combats it.
After 9/11, the Federal Bureau of Prisons completely restructured its system for identifying and containing radicalization. During the workshop, Lappin outlined a few key points from this operating procedure. The most important of which were raising awareness and fostering better communication between agencies.
Some of the questions that should be asked: Can you identify targets for radicalization? Can you recognize the dynamics between leaders and followers within radical groups? How do we decide when behavior is radical enough to warrant isolation or scrutiny, given that profiling and mistreatment can foster the very traits we seek to prevent?
Classifying and Containing Radicals
The BOP uses a three-tier system in its strategy for managing radicalization must include a system for classifying and containing radical inmates.
- TIER THREE: Low risk, yet susceptible to radicalization. Inmate can interact with other inmates but needs to be supervised rigorously.
- TIER TWO: Raised risk, highly susceptible to radicalization. Inmate can still be put in open environment but with extremely limited access to communication; mail, phones, etc.
- TIER ONE: High risk, requires isolation. Inmates should be secured at highest level possible. For BOP this means the ADX ‘Supermax’ in Florence, Colorado.
Keeping Your Head
Radicalization is intense and dangerous stuff. However, all three of these speakers stressed that obsessing over the issue, like so many things, will only make matters worse.
“Pay attention to it. Analyze it. Understand it. But don’t go overboard with it,” Cameron said. “Remember, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Winston Churchill were, at one time, all considered radical prisoners, too.”