Rep. Fincher Introduces Bill to Combat Radicalization in Federal Prisons

By Zachary Leshin | December 23, 2015 | 4:01pm EST
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN). (Wikimedia)

( – U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) introduced legislation last week to combat the ongoing radicalization of inmates in federal prisons.

“Over the years, our Federal prisons have become a breeding ground for radicalization. By allowing volunteers to enter the system without first having to undergo a comprehensive background check, some of the most vulnerable members of society have become susceptible to radicalization,” Fincher said in a press release.

His bill - the “Prevent Terrorism from Entering our Prisons Act of 2015” - would modify existing law to require that each volunteer who offers to work with prisoners at any federal penal or correctional institution be screened for known and suspected connections to domestic and international terror groups.

It would also require the volunteer to make his or her social media accounts available for screening by law enforcement.

“There have been a number of cases involving inmates who became radicalized and, once released, attempted to harm innocent citizens.” Fincher explained in announcing his legislation.

“Since 95 percent of inmates will eventually be released back into society, it is essential that we ensure radical ideologies do not infiltrate our prisons.

“My bill will require all volunteers applying to work with prisoners at Federal correctional facilities to undergo thorough FBI screening in order to uncover potential ties to domestic and international terrorists," he continued.

“We cannot let our own Federal facilities become recruitment centers for terrorism.

"By strengthening the background check process for Federal prison volunteers, we have a better shot at apprehending these individuals before their evil intentions see the light of day,” the congressman said.

Prison radicalization has long been an issue in the United States and elsewhere.

According to a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General, authorities believe that convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid and Al-Qaeda supporter Jose Padilla were both converted to radical Islam while serving sentences for other offenses.

Reid, a British citizen, is serving a life sentence after being convicted of trying to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes. 

Last year, a federal appeals court re-sentenced Padilla, a former gang member from Chicago, to 21 years in federal prison for plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" inside the U.S. in 2002.

"Radicalization of Islamic inmates is not a recdent phenomenon," the report stated.

British citizen Richard Reid was sentenced to life in a U.S. federal prison for attempting to blow up an airliner with explosives hidden in his shoes. (AP photo)

“Prison systems throughout the world have been and continue to be breeding grounds for radicalism, recruiting grounds for extremist movements, and facilities for the planning and training of radical activities,” it noted.

“Concerns regarding the radicalization of Muslim inmates in prisons were heightened after former inmates Richard Reid and Jose Padilla were arrested for allegedly attempting to commit terrorist acts against the United States.

“Reid ...had converted to Islam in a British prison and left the prison with radical leanings. British officials suspect he was radicalized in part by extreme Islamic clerics who visited and preached at the prison," the report continued.  

Convicted terrorist Jose Padilla (center) being escorted by federal marshals. (AP photo)

“Jose Padilla, arrested for attempting to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States, converted to Islam after serving time in a Broward County, Florida, jail where authorities suspect his Islamic radicalization began,” the report said.

In October 2015, the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing on countering prison radicalization.

During the hearing, subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said that prisoners must also be monitored after their release.

“In the United States, the challenge of prison radicalization – both within prison and once inmates are released – must be addressed with consistent, proactive information-sharing among Federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state and local partners; close cooperation among prison chaplains of all faiths and with law enforcement; and careful monitoring of former inmates after their release into society," King said.

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