Criminal Justice Intelligence Operations in U.S. Correctional Institutions

1979 words | 6 page(s)

The FBI and the Bureau of Prison both find that radicalization and recruitment in U.S. prisons is a major concern (Van Duyan, 2006). Prison radicalization occurs through the delivery of anti-U.S. sermons from a host of people, from volunteers, staff imams, and radicalized inmates who have gained religious influence (Van Duyan, 2006). However the true extent of the problem with radicalization of prisoners is unknown due to very few open sources to divulge information and the reluctance of authorities to openly disclose the issues (Van Duyan, 2006). There are two groups of particular concern that are often involved in prison radicalization and recruitments. The first being inmates, most of whom are a member of a minority group. The second group being contractors, volunteers and staff who enter the correctional facility with the primary intent to radicalize and recruit prisoners (Van Duyan, 2006).

Radicalized inmates are of a great concern because they have the potential to influence other inmates to attend mosques or Islamic centers upon their release from prison. Additionally, influential inmates may be a risk to prison security by urging other inmates to disobey authority and even incite violence within the prison. Finally, influential prisoners who promote radicalization are a risk because they may have certain skills that are used in terroristic activities and then pass them on to other prisoners (Van Duyan, 2006). Staff and personnel who radicalize and recruit inmates may have a significant impact on vulnerable followers and can guide extremist circles (Van Duyan, 2006). Often these extremist messages can also take the form of media and propaganda such as literature and videos that can be spread throughout the prison. Therefore these radical messages may expand beyond the prison walls and have a significantly larger impact on society in general (Van Duyan, 2006).

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The testimony of Donald Van Duyn, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Counterterrorism Division detailed the current environment within U.S. prisons as involving Islamic extremist and other radicalization influences. Prison officials realize that Islam is not a problem, yet it is the way in which violent extremists utilize Islam to inspire and justify their actions (Van Duyan, 2006).

Additionally, the FBI does not choose its targets for investigation based on their religious belief, but the activities of individuals who choose to harm to U.S. citizens and its allies both foreign and domestic are of interest and investigated. The most widely recognized ideologies of radicalized prisoners are influenced by a form of Sunni Islam known as Salafi (Van Duyan, 2006). Salafi is an extremist form of Shia Islam which is similarly exercised by the Iranian Lebanese Hizballah governments (Van Duyan, 2006)

While the influence and their radicalization emphasis are realized a greater understanding of the process of prisoner radicalization and the adoption of the extremist views are needed to search out and deter the formation of groups within prison whenever possible. One study into the nature of prisoner radicalization and its threat the U.S. correctional institutions was conducted by Mark Hamm (2007). In order for prison administrators and officials to understand the nature of prisoner radicalization key personnel with an understanding of the inner workings of prison and prison groups and recruitment must be utilized. Hamm (2007), utilized these key prison personnel by asking prison chaplains, prison gang intelligence officers, and even some prisoners several open-ended questions about non-Judeo-Christian faith groups in U.S. prisoners. As reviewed by Hamm (2007), the conversion process is a central point of importance. The ability for prison officials to understand the conversion process, the characteristics of potential converts and the methods by which they are targeted and influenced may give insight on how to limit the number of faith-based groups within violent influence both within and outside of U.S. correctional facilities.

While many prisoners who convert to non-Judeo-Christian faiths do it for two main reasons, many are not for the extremist or violent purposes which may be the underlying motivation for the influential recruiter. According to Hamm (2007), most prisoners converted due to the need for protection or the main reason; meeting the need due to interpersonal soul and spiritual searching which is sought to be resolved through religious beliefs and meaning. With these conversions there were several steps often with conversions taking place several times throughout several religious sects before deciding on one. Contrary to the beliefs of many, and minority group is subject to be recruited and radicalized by influential extremist. Very few radicalized members are born of the Muslim faith, most recruiters target minorities because they often have feelings of discriminated against in the United States or harbor feelings of discontent in that the United States oppresses minorities and Muslims both in the U.S. overseas (Van Duyan, 2006).

Prison officials must realize how few radicalized prisoners of Islamic faith are actually of Arabic and Islamic decent. For instance, even the media often associated Islamic beliefs with Arabic decent or origin. In May 2009, the New York Times writers Baker and Hernandez (2009) wrote an article of four men accused of plotting to bomb Synagogues in Bronx, New York. According to the initial report a law enforcement official stated that one of the accused men was of Haitian decent and they all were Muslim (Baker & Hernandez, 2009). A later correction and revision was posted to the article stating that erroneous descriptions of the accused were provided by law enforcement officials (Baker & Hernandez, 2009). Of the bombing suspects one is a Haitian immigrant and the other three are African Americans, none of the suspects are of Arabic descent (Baker & Hernandez, 2009). The bombings of Synagogues and the National Guard base in New York shows that domestic terrorism threats are just as potentially dangerous and any form foreign sources. Three U.S. citizens with no real ties to Islamic culture or Arabian descent were the primary planners and conductors of a potentially devastating terroristic plot within the United State.

A greater understanding of the characteristics and makeup of extremist sects and its members is required in order to seek out and diffuse radical extremist groups from within the walls of the U.S. correctional institutes. Recruited converts to the Muslim faith have very little knowledge of Islam and go only on what they are being told and educated on by the influential prisoner or staff member. This lack of knowledge combined with views of oppression by the U.S. breeds a potentially dangerous radicalized population within U.S. prisons.

The nature of and organization of extremist groups within prisons may also cause great difficulty for special investigations and prison officials to seek out those responsible and diffuse potentially radicalized groups. Prior organizations with extremist intents or beliefs within U.S. prisons proved it was quite easy to identify those in control and the various roles of different prisoners (Hannah, Clutterbuck, & Rubin, 2008). However current day extremist groups often are clandestine in nature, many wishing to remain covert which makes them difficult to distinguish and derail. It must be noted that religiosity alone is not a key indicator into the presence of extremist groups and additional research into influential extremist and indicators of radicalization must be developed in order to make the detection of such groups an easier tasks for prison personnel.

Current FBI and the Bureau of Prisons corrections intelligence operations to include the Correctional Intelligence Initiative (CII). The CII have been conducting an ongoing process which involved the collecting and evaluating of critical information that can be used to identify planned prison riots, planned attacks on prison guards, as well as the trafficking of firearms and guns inside prisons. The success of CII and the usefulness of its information collected form ongoing prisons has been successful since February 2003 (Van Duyan, 2006). The sharing of information among all levels of law enforcement to include correctional personnel, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces as well as a host of others has proven critical in the facilitation of the CII program and its processes. The main focus of the CII is to improve the collection of intelligence information; detect, deter, and disrupt terroristic, extremist, and radical groups and their attempts to recruit or radicalize within federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, or privatized prisons; and provide training and support materials for use by field offices in the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) use in outreach programs at local and state correctional facilities (Van Duyan, 2006).

The data collected from CII can be beneficial in the deterrence of radicalization in any prison facility. To date the CII has identifies several factors associated with the radicalization and recruitment of prisoners from investigations of over 3,000 state and local correctional facilities (Van Duyan, 2006). Current trends in prisoner radicalization should be understood and disseminated to all correctional institution intelligence unit managers to effectively detect and deter radicalization within their facility. Current trends identified in prisoner radicalization include the fact that the great majority of prison radicalization and recruitment originate from domestic extremists who normally have few or no foreign connections (Van Duyan, 2006). Many radicalized Islamic inmates are or were members of street and prison gangs, showing a crossover trend for gang members to Islamist extremist (Van Duyan, 2006). Additionally, areas with higher populations such as the West Coast and northeastern United States tend to have increased levels of radicalization activity levels appear to be higher in high population areas on the West Coast and in the northeastern United States (Van Duyan, 2006).

Once identified, prison intelligence managers must determine the best method to deal with radicalized and extremist inmates. Suggestions include to concentrate all extremist prisoners in a centralized location amongst a few facilities or disperse them throughout correctional facilities (Hannah, Clutterbuck, & Rubin, 2008). Both suggestions have their advantages and disadvantages but the correct system is yet to be agreed upon. The concentration of extremist prisoners may prove beneficial from an intelligence collecting sand point where only a few special staff and linguists are necessary. However security concerns stem from high concentration of extremist for instance instances of prisoners taking control of prison wings and even segregating themselves from other inmates has proven to provide them with unique powers in numbers (Hannah, Clutterbuck, & Rubin, 2008). Dispersing extremist may prove beneficial by deterring the ability for strong organizational ties in a single prison and reducing the ability of a single leader to maintain control over other prisoners (Hannah, Clutterbuck, & Rubin, 2008). However a disadvantage of dispersing them throughout the prison system may allow extremist access to a new pool of potential recruits for radicalization and extremist endeavors.

The following of the “best practices” as developed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the FBI may prove to be a beneficial and effective tool in deterring and dealing with radicalization of prisoners and extremist movements. These best practices include the use of an establish system-wide vetting protocol for all volunteer and contact applicants (Van Duyan, 2006). This vetting process uses criminal background checks for all personnel entering correctional facilities. Additionally, a system-wide database for all contractors providing direct services to inmates must be utilized, there should be improvements on the monitoring capacities of prisoners and better coordination of inmate transfers (Van Duyan, 2006). In all the direct sharing of information, resources for all contractor and volunteer applicants as well as those groups with the tendencies or characteristics to cause unrest or extremist activities.

  • Baker, A. & Hernandez, J.C. (2009 May 21). Four Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/nyregion/21/arrests.html.
  • FBI Testimony of Donald Van Duyn. (2006 September 19) US Prison Environment. Retrieved from: at http://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/prison-radicalization-the-environment-the-threat-and-the-response
  • Hannah, G., Clutterbuck, L. & Rubin, J. (2008). Understanding the challenge of extremist and radicalized prisoners. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from: http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR571.html
  • Hamm, M.S. (2007, December). Terrorist Recruitment in American Correctional Institutions: An Exploratory Study of Non-Traditional Faith Groups. NCJ 220957. The National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC. Retrieved from: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/220957.pdf.

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