A debate has long circled around the proposition that American prison systems at state and federal levels need counter-radicalization programs. The hypothesis claims that circle-talking and counseling will preempt the manipulation of predisposed inmates by predatory visiting prison imams, or by fellow Islamists inside.
This 2013 Naval Postgraduate School study by Tennessee’s Assistant Commissioner of Prisons Tony Parker established that America’s prison systems offered no counter-radicalization programs despite attacks carried out by radicalized inmates. The study argued in favor of such programs after examining programs in Saudi Arabia and Singapore, where more carrot than stick is applied to nudge jihadists toward productive roles in society.
Unfortunately, as opponents of such prison deradicalization intelligence programs point out, no one can ever show that these soft approaches actually reduce the high-consequence risks associated with the jihadist impulse to kill. Tallying bad events that never happened because programs prevented them is inherently challenging.
It also doesn’t help that one too many Islamist terrorists faked their way through such programs and attacked afterward.
Prison systems around the country still do nothing while wavering about what to implement. However, a Virginia prosecution that wrapped up earlier this year provides the strongest argument yet that America’s prison systems need a harder-edged approach.
The 2017-2018 FBI investigation and prosecution of Virginia’s Casey Charles Spain amply demonstrates what is needed: dedicated intelligence-collection programs, based on developed “snitch” networks on the inside, that are designed only to detect Islamist radicalization clues that can guide kinetic FBI operations on the outside.
Ideally, these programs would end for others like they ended for Spain — with suspects back in prison for long, hard sentences. Institutionalized intelligence operations inside and kinetic law enforcement outside would surely present a more certain way to reduce jihadist attack risk among this inmate population than, say, preemptive talk circles.