By Patrick Dunleavy
October 28, 2016
The latest attempt by Western democracies to deal with the ever-growing threat of Islamic radicalization in the prison system has been deemed an utter failure. French officials announced Tuesday that they would no longer isolate inmates with jihadists’ tendencies from other inmates, or offer therapeutic services or specialized counselling aimed at de-radicalizing Islamic terrorists already in prison.
They found that the program actually increased the threat of radicalizing inmates into terrorists rather than diminishing it.
Following a series of terrorist attacks in France, counterterrorism investigators found that a large number of the jihadists had previously spent time in prison for petty crimes. It was there, in the fertile soil of prison, where they were influenced by the radical Islamic teachings of incarcerated members of groups like al-Qaida, the GIA (Armed Islamic Group of Algeria) and ISIS.
In announcing the suspension of the program Justice Minister Jean Jacques Urvoas admitted the failure: "I don't use the term de-radicalization. I don't think we can invent a vaccine against this temptation" (Islamism).
France has produced more soldiers for ISIS than any other Western country.
But France is not the only country that has attempted to come up with an program to prevent Islamic radicalization in prison and help rehabilitate those terrorists who have been successfully prosecuted and sent to prison. The United Kingdom previously announced plans to form "specialized isolation units" within its prison system to deal with convicted Islamic terrorists, like Anjem Choudary, who were seen as a danger to the other inmates.
The United States also sought to establish a de-radicalization program for potential jihadists. Minnesota U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis devised a de-radicalization program that included hiring researcher Daniel Koehler, who has dealt with the neo-Nazi movement in Germany, to provide counselling and training for both inmates and staff.
The first inmate placed in the program, Abdullahi Yusuf, was an example of the program's potential for failure.
Yusuf was arrested in 2014 when he attempted to board a flight to Turkey to join ISIS and fight in Syria. While awaiting trial, he was admitted to the program for de-radicalization counselling and was allowed to stay in a halfway house instead of in jail. Less than four months later he was removed from the program after he was found with a box cutter.
Further resistance to the U.S. de-radicalization program came from the defence attorney appointed to represent Adan Abdihamid Farah. Farah was arrested last year as he tried to travel to Syria and fight alongside other Islamic State jihadists. "If the de-radicalization is for him (Farah) to moderate his religious beliefs, I can't do that," defence attorney Kenneth Udoibok told the Wall Street Journal.
Some saw the program as a direct violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
And now, faced with the possibility that as many as 100 inmates convicted of terrorism crimes in the United States will be paroled in the next five years, authorities have had to admit that there is no effective re-radicalization program in place to deal with the very really potential for recidivism. The Justice Department acknowledged we are not prepared to release them.
"There are [rehabilitation] programs for drug addicts and gang members [in prison]. There is not one [program] with a proven track record of success for terrorism," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin said earlier this year.
The situation appears hopeless without changes in our approach to radical Islamism. To effectively deal with the threat of terrorists coming out of prison and committing more heinous acts, or others being radicalized by their influences while they are incarcerated, officials must commit to long range counter terrorism initiatives that do not end when the terrorist is captured.
These inmates' access to Islamic extremist literature should be limited. Their visitors and the volunteers at correctional facilities need to be monitored, and a standardized vetting process for chaplains needs to be instituted.
The Justice Department Inspector General's office strongly recommended these reforms12 years ago, but they have not been implemented.
Finally, there must be coordination between intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and correctional officials. Courts have reasoned that inmates have a lesser expectation of privacy and corrections administrators can more closely monitor their phone calls, correspondence and financial transactions.
Information gleaned from that data would immensely help in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
Seeking a simple inoculation vaccine like the French does not work.
IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently teaches a class on terrorism for the United States Military Special Operations School.