Prisons to Remove Unapproved Religious Books

The federal government has ordered prisons to remove all unapproved religious books from their libraries. The concern is that prisons could potentially be fertile recruiting grounds for terrorists. Is the move unconstitutional? How serious is the threat of extremist religion in prisons?

Guests:

Laurie Goodstein, religion correspondent for The New York Times; author of "Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries"

Gregory Saathoff, executive director of the Critical Incident Analysis Group, University of Virginia; co-author of "Out of the Shadows: Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization"

Frederick al-Deen, former prison chaplain

Statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Material provided to NPR by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Office of Public Affairs, September 26, 2007:

Statement on Chapel Library Program:

The Bureau of Prisons is committed to providing inmates all appropriate materials that support the pursuit of religious interests and commitments as well as other opportunities for self improvement. At the same time, the agency is committed to ensuring that we maintain the safety and security of staff, inmates and the community.

In response to concerns expressed by members of several religious communities, the Bureau of Prisons has decided to alter its planned course of action with respect to the Chapel Library Project. The Bureau will begin immediately to return to chapel libraries materials that were removed in June 2007, with the exception of any publications that have been found to be inappropriate, such as material that could be radicalizing or incite violence. The review of all materials in chapel libraries will be completed by the end of January 2008.

Background information on the Bureau of Prisons:

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has custody over nearly 200,000 inmates who are housed in 114 federal prisons around the country as well as prisons and jails operated by private companies and state and local governments. The Bureau employs more than 36,000 staff members. All federal prisons include chapels for inmate worship services and chapel libraries that provide inmates access to religious books and audio and video materials related to the practice of the many religions represented among the inmate population. Prison religious programs have for many years provided an important resource for inmates looking to better prepare themselves for a successful return to the community as law abiding and productive citizens.

Radicalization:

We understand the importance of controlling and preventing the recruitment of inmates into terrorist activities and organizations. The BOP's efforts at preventing radicalization focus on: (1) managing and monitoring inmates who could attempt to radicalize other inmates; (2) screening religious service providers to avoid hiring or contracting with anyone who could radicalize inmates, and (3) providing programs to help inmates become less vulnerable to attempts at radicalization. We know that some inmates may be particularly vulnerable to radical recruitment and we must guard against the spread of terrorism and extremist ideologies. Our practices in institution security and inmate management are geared toward the prevention of any violence, criminal behavior, disruptive behavior, or other threats to institution security or public safety, which includes the radicalization of inmates.

Over the last several years, our agency has taken a number of significant measures, and we are actively engaged in several ongoing initiatives to ensure that inmates in Federal prison are not recruited to support radical organizations or terrorist groups. For example, we have eliminated most inmate organizations to control the influence that outside entities have on Federal inmates. We also have enhanced our information and monitoring systems (including telephone and mail monitoring), expanded our intelligence gathering and sharing capabilities, improved our capabilities to identify and manage disruptive inmates; and increased training of our staff in the areas of counter-terrorism and recognition of potential radicalization.

Experts have identified the societal marginalization of inmates — that is their feelings of alienation, discontentment, and dispossession — as a key factor in their becoming radicalized. Our agency provides inmates with a broad variety of programs that are proven to assist in the development of key skills, thereby minimizing the likelihood of the inmates becoming marginalized. The programs we provide include work in prison industries and other institution jobs, vocational training, education, substance abuse treatment, religious programs, and other skills-building and pro-social values programs.

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