Experts Fear Prisons Will Foment Radicalism

Article excerpt

TRACKING POTENTIAL TERRORISTS is a difficult proposition, even in the highly controlled environment of U.S. penitentiaries, according to a report on extreme ideologies among inmates.

"Out of the Shadows: Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization" sparked a Senate hearing that asked, "Are terrorist cells forming in U.S. cell blocks?"

The report, produced by the George Washington University's Homeland security Policy Institute and the University of Virginia's Critical Incident Analysis Group, argued that a lack of resources and understanding of the problem in the U.S. penal system means no one knows for certain whether there are festering beds of radicalism that could one day pose a threat to national security.

While racist and Christian extremist groups were mentioned in the report, and during the Government Affairs and Homeland security Committee hearing, radical Islam was its main focus.

"While the federal prison system has made great strides in addressing the issue of religious radicalization and recruitment within prisons, our level of awareness and understanding is still quite limited, particularly at the level of state prisons, community corrections and local jails," said the report's co-author, Gregory Saathoff, executive director of the University of Virginia analysis group.

John Vanyur, assistant director of the correctional programs division at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said his agency is committed to ensuring that prisoners under its charge are not radicalized or recruited for terrorist causes

However, of the nation's 2 million prisoners, only 7 percent are in the federal prison system. There is no way to track radical prisoners when they are transferred between systems. Saathoff suggested an integrated computer network that could be used to track such inmates. State and local prisons also need the expertise to spot inflammatory literature and screen out religious leaders who may volunteer at such facilities and surreptitiously spread radicalism, he added. …