France’s Program, Like All Others Aimed at Deradicalizing Jihadists in Prison, Has Failed
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.
Last week, French officials announced that they would no longer isolate inmates with jihadist tendencies from other inmates, or offer therapeutic services or specialized counseling aimed at deradicalizing them.
The reason? They found that these programs actually increased, rather than decreased, the threat of inmate radicalization.
Following a series of terrorist attacks in France over the past few years, counterterrorism investigators discovered that a large number of the jihadists had previously spent time in prison for petty crimes. It was there, in the fertile soil of jail, that they were influenced by the radical Islamic teachings of incarcerated members of groups like Al-Qaeda, the GIA (Armed Islamic Group of Algeria) and ISIS.
In announcing the suspension of the program, French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas admitted the failure: “I don’t use the term deradicalization. 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 a program to prevent Islamic radicalization in prison and rehabilitate terrorists. 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 other inmates.
The United States also sought to establish a deradicalization program for potential jihadists. Minnesota US District Court Judge Michael Davis devised a deradicalization program that included hiring researcher Daniel Koehler, who has dealt with the neo-Nazi movement in Germany, to provide counseling and training for both inmates and staff.
The first inmate placed in the program, Abdullahi Yusuf, was an example of its 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 deradicalization counseling 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 US deradicalization program came from the defense 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 deradicalization is for him (Farah) to moderate his religious beliefs, I can’t do that,” defense attorney Kenneth Udoibok told the Wall Street Journal.
Some see 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 deradicalization program in place to deal with the very really potential for recidivism. The Justice Department acknowledged that they 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 counterterrorism 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 reforms 12 years ago, but they have not been implemented.
Finally, there must be coordination between intelligence agencies, law enforcement and correctional officials. Courts have found 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 did clearly will 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.