Magazine article Security Management

Prisons: Fostering Extremism?

Magazine article Security Management

Prisons: Fostering Extremism?

Article excerpt

HISTORY HAS SHOWN the potential of prisons to serve as incubators for extremist leaders, from Adolf Hitler--who wrote Mein Kampf while in prison--to Abu Musab A1-Zarqawi--whose radicalism hardened during a six-month prison term in the 1990s. In addition, it is common for charismatic radicals to convert and radicalize disaffected prisoners, like convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, a product of Great Britain's prison system.

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Could that be occurring in U.S. prisons? Congress recently asked experts that question at a hearing on the issue. The answer, according to a report presented there, was that prisoner radicalization is "a threat of unknown magnitude to the national security of the U.S."

In testimony before Congress, the report's co-author, Gregory Saathoff, a prison psychiatrist and head of the University of Virginia School of Medicine Critical Incident Analysis Group, recalled a routine visit he made to a correctional facility a couple days after the September 11 attacks.

"Anxious inmates informed me that televised images of the 9-11 attack were cause for celebration among many of the inmates. In fact, they estimated that a third of the inmates praised the attacks, and their cheers could be heard in cellblock after cellblock," Saathoff said.

The report, written by a task force representing law enforcement, the private sector, and academia, notes that prison radicalization is by no means exclusive to Islam, but extends also to extremist Christian groups and fascist or neo-Nazi organizations, which in the latter case share common enemies with radical Muslims: Jews, the state of Israel, and the U.S. government.

The religion of Islam, however, attracts the vast majority of inmates who convert to a religion while incarcerated, and the number of practitioners dwarfs that of Muslim chaplains working in the nation's prison system. …

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