Radicalization is a process through which a person embraces a more radical or extreme approach towards an ideology. The ideology could be political, social or religious, but normally the term radicalization is used to denote embracing those ideologies which rejects the generally accepted norms, notions or values. Prison is a place where radicalization can be triggered easily because, its isolated environment and the lack of distractions, offer the perfect platform for a person to lean towards and adopt an extreme set of ideologies. The inmates who are already radicalized have the ideal opportunity to target a group of young men, who already have had a brush with the law, and to inculcate their radical thoughts in them. Prison systems are permissive to propagate extreme ideologies, and this tolerance of the system, is taken advantage by extremist groups looking for newer recruits for their cause.
Radicalization of young Muslims in the prisons of the US, UK and other European countries are a growing threat to the prison administrators. Imprisonment and the resultant psychological impact suffered by young inmates’, increases their vulnerability, towards embracing extreme religious ideas. When a person is imprisoned, he experiences a period of uncertainty both psychologically and spiritually, with some prisoners even trying to reinvent their self identity. So they attempt to find solace in their religion. With prison systems allowing freedom of religious services, it gives the perfect opportunity for radical factions to impose their ideas on fresh minds.
Religious gatherings and religious worship places in prisons, serve as perfect places for precursors of radicalization to influence others.
There have been many legal battles pertaining to religious rights of the prisoners, and the judgments in some cases were in favor of the prisoners, but in general the rulings are based on the judges’ judicial restraint. The RLUIPA act was signed by President Clinton in the year 2000, which grants the prisoners right to protect their religious beliefs. But the act asks the courts to decide, which beliefs might be legally allowed, as religious practices. While the correctional administrators cannot and should not infringe on a citizen’s constitutional rights, efforts should be taken to prevent prisons from becoming breeding ground for extremism. In recent years, particularly during the post 9/11 era, there have been many instances where prison authorities have suspected and acted on suppressing the spread of radical ideologies among inmates.
The case of Intel Allah, a convicted prisoner belonging to a religious group called five Percenters, who won a legal battle against the prison authorities for allowing him access to religious literature, is a perfect example of the predicament faced by law enforcement authorities. Five Percenters are a group which do not follow any particular religious path but have an ideology of their own whereby each black person is considered a God (Allah) and the white people are considered devils. These groups are declared heretics by mainstream Muslims and they are known for their violent activities. Thus prison officials are faced with balancing between allowing the religious rights of their prisoners and keeping the prisons and the inmates safe.
But some factions argue that the subject of radicalization of prisoners is clouded with, too much of inaccuracies and fear mongering. For example, SpearIt, An assistant professor of Law of the Saint Louis University, argues that while the 3, 50,000 Muslim prisoners in America are scrutinized for their association with Jihadist movements and tough measures are taken to prevent their radicalization, one ignores the ability of religion to reform individuals. He says while there are a series of measures taken which are directed towards controlling radicalization, there is a positive hindrance on the free practice of religion by the inmates. These measures according to him overlook the fact that, religion can help in the rehabilitation of the prisoners and have a positive influence on them.
Thus, it is imperative that while every inmate has a right to pursue his/her religion, one should also acknowledge the responsibility of the prison administration in supervising the conduct of its prisoners. The correctional administrators therefore should devise a practical standard that would accommodate both these interests.
Brian Levin. (2003) Southern Poverty Law Centre. Radical Religion in Prison. Retrieved from <http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2003/fall/radical-religion-in-prison>
Dennis A. Ballas. (October 2010) Prisoner Radicalization. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/October-2010/confronting-science-and-market-positioning
SpearIt. (January 2013) Institute for social policy and understanding (ISPU) Facts and fictions about Islam in Prison: Assessing Prisoner radicalization in Post-9/11 America. Retrieved from <http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/ISPU_Report_Prison_SpearIt_WEB.pdf>