RECIDIVISM, RADICALIZATION, RESTORATION

Dr. Ross L. Riggs 20 December 2018

U.S. PRISON DOUBLE STANDARD  

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has an interesting, if not warped view of information necessary for dissemination to law enforcement and to communities when certain individuals are released from custody. According to a recent article by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the Bureau has mandatory reporting requirements to law enforcement when registered sex offenders are released. The same is true for drug offenders. There are programs for both for re-entry into the mainstream and there are channels of communication to alert law enforcement of their known whereabouts when released. However, there is no similar programs in place for convicted terrorists who are paroled or have completed their sentences. To quote Patrick Dunleavy of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, “That is absurd.”[i]

“The Tracer Act, presently awaiting passage in the U.S. Senate, would require authorities to provide state and local law enforcement with ‘release information from a Federal correctional facility, including the name, charging date, and expected place and date of release, of certain individuals who may pose a terrorist threat.’”[ii] The bill was introduced in the House in May of 2017 and then received in the Senate in September of 2017. At that time, it was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and a year and three months later, it remains in committee.

Nearly thirty-two years ago, while working a special detail seeking out persons with outstanding warrants for violent crimes, I came across just such a person trying to hide behind a dumpster in a bar parking lot. He had multiple felony warrants for aggravated burglary, robbery, arson, escape and a host of others. A lengthy foot chase ended with the suspect in custody, the two of us at the bottom of a culvert and my right shoulder dislocated. Within a couple of years, I had my first reconstructive surgery on that shoulder. Just five days prior to writing the first draft of this article, I had a total shoulder replacement after years of dealing with chronic pain, arthritis and joint inflammation. When the felon was sentenced, he received 25 years in prison, of which he did the entire two-bits. I sometimes said to folks, (he) got 25 years, I got life. Today, my quip seems more real than ever. It did not take that felon very long after his release to be re-arrested and back in the system. Recidivism rates for violent, repeat offenders are disconcerting, to say the least. According to the study conducted by Jesse Morton and Mitchell Silber, “The recidivism rate among violent extremist offenders within the United States is unlikely to be zero. While the re-offender rate for violent extremist offenders appears to be much lower than among other federal prisoners,13 in 2010 the Director of National Intelligence assessed that 25 percent of former Guantanamo Bay detainees were confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities.”[iii]

Twenty-five percent is probably a very low assessment. Most, if they have learned anything at all during their time at Guantanamo, learned how to keep a lower profile. Could it be that fifty percent or more of those who were detainees are still part of the terrorists’, jihadists’circles? Those who are not are more likely to be disengaged either by the simple fact that aging takes its toll on even the most resolute fighters and injuries incurred during their career have also left them unable to fight. For others, they may be out of touch because they are no longer trusted by those currently holding the reins of power. There may even be a few who are reformed. My expectation is that it is very few. To have a system which, if it tracks these violent offenders after release at all, does not permit the law enforcement in areas where they will reside to be notified of their location, is, as was quoted earlier, absurd. It borders on criminal negligence on the part of those who run the systems. The blood of any law enforcement officer or citizen who is subsequently killed by a released convict when no effort was made to inform police of his whereabouts or potential of his continued complicity to terrorism, should be legally upon the hands of those who had the power to change the system but did not.

I have a son-in-law who has, what you might call, an inquiring mind. He asked me just the other, ‘What is really wrong with having places like Alcatraz or as the British first planned to use Australia as a dumping ground for those too anti-social to work and play nicely with others?’ In the Philippines, al Qaeda and its brethren have ruled over Mindanao for decades. Okay, let them have it… take out those who have no dealings with the brothers of the sword, invite any who want to join them to go on in and then remove all forms of communication with the outside world to the island and let them fend for themselves. Such a comment is hyperbole, of course. I would never presume to instruct a sovereign government what to do with their lands; for the same reason I won’t live in a gated community. Without effective communication between prisons, probation, customs, INS, and local law enforcement, it becomes a matter of the stow-a-ways commanding the ship.

I have a good friend, a brother-in-Christ who is serving a fifteen-year sentence with the Ohio Department of Corrections. I know of murderers who did not get as severe a penalty as my friend and I believe he suffered greatly because of inadequate legal representation. However, with such issues aside, he knows why he is there and, as you would expect, he has lost everything which was important to him while he has been inside, with the exception of his faith. Tested mightily, yes; but his faith has endured. He has grown into a much stronger and wiser brother in the faith than most men I know. As with Joseph, (although my friend admits he was not innocent of all charges as Joseph was in the Genesis account), God is using him in amazing ways where he is.

A huge difference for my friend is his faith and because of his faith, he was ‘reformed’ even before he was ever charged with a crime. Almost two decades passed between the time of his crime and when he was charged. When he was arrested, he was already no longer able to commit his crimes because of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. To say the ODC has any programs helping him to be prepared to re-enter society is a stretch. My friend has grown greatly; but, it is because of the Holy Spirit and through his own initiatives in seeking out educational options and discipleship and mentoring programs.

In 1974, I wrote a college paper on recidivism rates. I would like to report on the great advances made in corrections to reduce recidivism in the intervening forty-four years. Such is not the case. Lots of money has been thrown at all kinds of programs; but, the nature of the beast is beyond any quick fix. Without the life-changing, eternity altering, soul reclaiming power of Christ, none of our man-made efforts can make a significant difference. The Constitution of the U.S. has a clause known as ‘The full faith and credit clause.’ The actions of one state will be backed by the others and by the federal government (with specific exceptions). Without such a clause, the ability of the states to work as a united republic would be impossible. As an analogy, each act of kindness must also be backed by the full faith and love of Jesus Christ to have any eternal efficacy.

To merely bemoan the brokenness of the system and offer no good recourse or some viable alternatives is to promote cynicism and defeatism. There are already enough isms wreaking havoc upon our society, I shan’t be involved in promoting any others. A quote from the immutable Dr. House is simply, ‘you must either be good, get good or give up’ and nobody can afford to give up. If our dealing with recidivism and radicalization are not good and our attempts at restoration have not been good, then we need, as a society to get good.  I suggest the following:

  1. Improve our grammar. A sentence is a sentence. Ten years for armed robbery is ten years not 3 years with credit for time served. The sentences, however, must fit the crime and the individual charged. Too harsh or too lenient, both are wrong.
  2. Repair our doorways. To deal with recidivism, prison doors do not swing open and they do not revolve. They lock. Repeat offenders need to know their future is certain.
  3. Become better gardeners. Remember our roots. America is built on Judeo-Christian principles. It will be the only faith available for study in prison. A free American has the right to freedom of worship. If you are in prison you are not a free American. There will be no radicalizing imams strolling the halls of our penitentiaries unless they are prisoners themselves and still, they will not have the opportunity to preach and teach.
  4. We will sing-along with Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T will be afforded to parents by children, students to teachers, citizens to police officers and, young people to elders. This will be taught in the homes and in the schools with local churches available to help-out any time.
  5. We will encourage reading. The only OPEN Borders will be bookstores. If you choose to immigrate LEGALLY into the U.S., you will learn English as our national language. The phones will be freed from the option to ‘Press 1 for English’. Tourists out west, if they see a sign for WALL DRUG – it will be for the great tourist trap in South Dakota and not some marijuana they got between the U.S. and Mexico.
  6. We will encourage a STRONG economy. You desire health benefits and a paycheck, you will work. The definition of those who truly are not able to physically work will be determined by those who pay for the social services, the tax-payers.
  7. Pharmacies will be available 24 hours a day. They will be the only places where anyone can get drugs. Anyone who wants to dispense drugs can go to pharmacology school. Failing to get a Pharm degree but still selling drugs will invoke number 1 and number 2 and if the person is an alien, number 5 will come into play and the person will be invited to return to the land of their birth, do not pass go, do not collect $200.00.

Perhaps these Stringent Seven are a bit tongue in cheek or, at least, too simplistic to merit any true consideration. Still, they are the basis for what needs to be accomplished within our system to begin to regain some control over the miscreants threatening our society.


[i] Dunleavy, Patrick “The Strasbourg Terror Attack – Only the Names Have Changed” IPT News 17 Dec 2018

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] https://ctc.usma.edu/nypd-vs-revolution-muslim-inside-story-defeat-local-radicalization-hub/