Prison Radicalization in County Jails: Disrupting Terrorist Acts Through Information Sharing

– Executive Summary –

Radicalization, the process by which Westerners embrace the teachings of the radical Islam, is of great concern to United States (U.S.) officials. The motivations for radicalization vary, but experts agree that prison environments are conducive for such a conversion of ideology. A number of former prisoners who radicalized while incarcerated have later been arrested for terrorism-related crimes.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) houses all persons sentenced for the violation of federal crimes, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) was historically responsible for housing anyone sentenced to more than one year for the violation of California statutes. Some prisoners in those systems serve very lengthy sentences, including “life without the possibility of parole.” A number of noteworthy terrorists were found to have radicalized during these periods of incarceration.

Authorities in the United States do not employee deradicalization programs, but instead rely on the timely reporting of radicalization efforts in hopes of disrupting or preventing terrorist acts from occurring. Both the BOP and the CDCR have programs in place that ensure that their staff receive training in radicalization awareness and that they document and disseminate their observations in an appropriate, timely, and lawful manner.

County jails in California traditionally house inmates pending trial and those sentenced to one year or less. In 2011, however, California Governor Jerry Brown enacted the Public Safety Realignment Act (AB109), which directed that inmates meeting certain criteria serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prison. It is estimated that 30,000 felons per year would be sentenced to county jails instead of state prison. These individuals, who are being referred to as “county jail prisoners,” thus can spend decades in county jails. One prisoner is currently serving 44 years in a Los Angeles County jail.

County jails in California historically did not encounter incidents of radicalization, likely because of the shorter periods of incarceration. That situation is likely to change with the lengthy sentences now being served in county jails. While some jail systems in California, including at least one large one and several smaller ones, remain unprepared or under-prepared to address radicalization, the Los Angeles County system has taken appropriate measures to ensure proper monitoring and reporting of radicalization activities.

This research examined the smart practices currently in place in the BOP, the California Department of Corrections, and the Los Angeles County jail system. While the dynamics of their respective populations are diverse, each system had policies and procedures that could be employed in various jails systems.

The BOP houses both known terrorists and prisoners with ties to terrorism. It has the ability to segregate these prisoners, and securely house them in a manner that allows for close monitoring that limits the prisoners’ ability to recruit or radicalize other prisoners. It has policies in place intended to reduce the likelihood of outside influences from facilitating the radicalization process to include the prohibition of The Noble Quran (a radical interpretation of the original version) and the proper vetting of religious service providers who have access to the prisoners. The staff receives radicalization awareness training on a regular basis and investigators at each facility ensure the proper reporting of activities related to radicalization. BOP officials work closely with staff at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF), and the Correctional Intelligence Initiative (CII).

The CDCR does not house those convicted of terrorism-related offenses, as those are typically charged in the federal courts, but many documented cases of radicalization have occurred within its facilities. For many years, CDCR staff has efficiently monitored and reported the activities of prison gangs and their members, and the CDCR found that many of those practices were effective in monitoring of radicalization efforts. Like the BOP, the CDCR attempts to prevent outside influences from entering the facilities, but its policies are less restrictive. For example, The Noble Quran is not on the list of banned items. The CDCR receives assistance from the FBI through the California Gang Intelligence Initiative (CGII). This group’s primary mission was the management of gang intelligence, but it is now tasked with radicalization intelligence as well.

The Los Angeles County jails system, with almost 19,000 inmates, is the largest jail system in the nation. Out of necessity, the staff has developed an expertise in monitoring street and prison gang activity in its facilities. Like the CDCR, the Los Angeles jails found that these practices were useful in monitoring and documenting the radicalization efforts in their facilities. Reporting of terrorism-related activities is performed through the Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) system, which is managed by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC). Jail staff receives radicalization and other terrorism-related training, and officials attempt to limit the introduction of outside influence that may facilitate radicalization. Los Angeles County has paved the path for other jail staff, in California and beyond, who seek to develop programs to ensure that they effectively monitor and report radicalization efforts in their facility.

The research concludes with recommendations regarding support, training, monitoring (communications, observations, and activities), reporting and activities related to religious services. Following the recommendations outlined in this thesis will help ensure that actionable intelligence regarding possible radicalization can and will be reported to the proper entity in a timely manner.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top