Following many of the attacks in Europe and other western nations, it is often reported that the Muslim attacker(s), be they a born Muslim or convert to Islam, was radicalized in prison. While many ask how this can happen, the truth is that Muslim radicalization starts out as joining a prison gang, and their growth and radicalization is “an in your face” activity. This is unlike society, where radicalization occurs covertly to outsiders.

Having spent 30 years working frontline inside of Federal Prisons, I have witnessed the growth of these gangs, and by that I mean all gangs, their operations, strategy and power play to achieve their aims. Their activity is such an in-your-face action, that an untrained eye would assume that what they are seeing is just regular prison activity. So why is this allowed to happen? Simply put, although incarceration is to be a restriction, the reality is that these restrictions are not as limited as one would think, and in some cases their rights are more protected than honest people on the outside. Many bleeding hearts are more interested in their rights then yours.

The problem starts with society and the naive belief that prison rehabilitates. Society is sold an idea that prisons are a sort of therapeutic clinical environment where everything is strictly controlled and positive results attained and measured. Money comes from saying there is a cure, and society feels better believing it is curing someone. Prison environment is ripe for the radicalization of any group, but for Muslims it really is the tip of the spear to start the process.

The hard facts are that prison is a violent environment, and for many reason, individuals look to groups to secure their safety and in many cases their comfort. As the public may not be aware, Muslims as well as some other groups have special privileges that they are able to fall back on as recruiting tool. One such privilege is the different food they receive, from the rest of the population. To facilitate this they also have their own cooks to handle their cooking. While this might seem small, in prison where you can either eat food prepared for hundreds or thousands or food cooked for a vastly smaller number, guess who has the better food? Prayer time is another opportunity for them to gather in their gang, and this is where the power structure becomes visible. The next issue is security, and this is where the gang loyalty starts to gel them together. Your safety becomes hitched to following the gang and vice versa. It is a typical cult recruiting mentality. Prison provides the best of criminals and easiest mark for them to recruit from. In return you will be called upon to show your loyalty to them, which can include assaults, murders or any other activity they demand. Once converted and radicalized you don’t leave. Another big issue is that sometime the information sought out by prison managers, is from some Muslims who don’t understand the complexity of prison, so they provide bad information which leads to misinterpretation of rights rather than customs or likes. For example, the idea of during Ramadan, that meals have to be held in a community style fashion is often stated, but not required. Security should never be dictated by outsiders, but sadly it happens.  It is a typical tail wagging the dog scenario.

Unfortunately because of a lack of knowledge about Islam and a reliance upon Muslims to tell the organization what they have to do, this empowers the Muslim inmates, and paints the perception that they are powerful and able to get things done. No other group has this leverage over the criminal justice system. This power that they wield behind bars is viewed as an aphrodisiac to converts.

Law enforcement needs to refocus its plans priorities on the reality of what is happening inside prisons. While today issues is radicalization of Islam behind bars, next time it may be other groups.

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