Friday, May 23, 2008

America’s Greatest Terror Threat – A Threat From Within and Its Easy Solution

It’s not even a secret that radical jihadist groups are recruiting from among America’s prison population. They do so by turning to dejected people who face long sentences and offering them a distorted sense of purpose. They cater to their bitterness and seek to turn it against society. Stopping them in their tracks is easy and would harm no one (and I do mean no one, not criminals, law enforcement, society or prison workers and owners; read on) and would benefit all in many ways.

There are many ways to rehabilitate criminals. Study after study shows that by forcing someone who committed a crime to perform rigid, almost back breaking, work every day over a relatively short period of time (a few months, etc.) all but wipes out recidivism. So does having them perform menial tasks on the same basis. By contrast, prison promotes boredom and dejection, which leads to further crime.

Non-violent offenders have often ended up as violent career criminal after receiving long mandatory sentences. Mandatory minimums take away judicial discretion and the supposed “benefits” of more equitable punishment not only haven’t materialized, but could have been achieved through strict rehabilitation programs along the lines mentioned above, with far more effective results.

Simply put, a 16 year old who steals can be sentenced to backbreaking labor from 6 in the morning to 10 at night for a few months and he’ll never offend again (a few weeks would be enough to send a lifelong message). But one who’s been put through years of prison as a result of the same crime sits through daily boredom, loses all hope, becomes vengeful against society and spends all day plotting larger crimes with his fellow criminals, learns how to be violent and is often forced to join gangs. Now, in addition to all that, terrorist sympathizers are recruiting such criminals for terror, and according to all reports they’re achieving great success. We’ve got to stop them!

The untold damage prison does on families and children would also be reduced. Such a program would punish the criminal and the criminal only (family incomes would be cut, but for a shorter time), and in a much harsher, effective, yet humane way. The criminal would be dragged from bed at 6 in the morning and brought back around 10-11 pm, but would still be able to deal with family emergencies and issues with children, albeit late at night or very early in the morning.

The punishment would also be a large deterrent for the rest of society, as neighbors of offenders would see what happens and some would even see how the offender looks returning at night after drudgery. The offender would be physically broken, totally worn out and would never reoffend. That “crime doesn’t pay” would be visible. But the other important part of the equation is that the offender, while completely broken, wouldn’t despair. It’s despair that currently causes criminals to reoffend, lash out and even be receptive to the jihadists now recruiting among the prison population.

America’s biggest threat comes from allowing such people to despair of any hope and to be confined in places where terrorist sympathizers can reach them. If we remove the element of despair, we remove the threat.

America currently has a larger percentage of its population in prison than any other country. This is because of the failure to introduce effective alternatives for non-violent offenders, as well as for another reason, the lack of parole. Parole is a key element of any prison rehabilitation program, as only the possibility of parole can provide real incentive for good behavior and for prisoners to take real steps toward rehabilitation. It also gives inmates hope, keeping them from despair, the emotion that’s so far made many receptive to jihadist recruits. Parole should not be arbitrary, but should be available to prisoners who no longer pose a threat to society. Those who never were violent should really be referred to a hard labor program to begin with, as stated above.

The program would lower the number of prisoners. But it’s also clear that those who currently own prisons or administer contracts would actually benefit from it as well. While this isn’t a primary concern, we don’t need to harm those who do business with the government. They generally perform a much more beneficial endeavor than many other legitimate forms of business, such as the sale of fast food. For this reason, as well as the fact that they are best equipped to handle the task, they can administer the labor contracts, labor details and the work sites. They can also build and rent out military barracks that would be used to house rehabilitating convicts who would join a special unit. All of those would be just as lucrative as the prison system, while benefiting society through the work projects that would be developed or, in the case of military recruits, by strengthening the nation’s defensive and offensive capabilities, unlike an unreformed prison system which threatens both.

Additionally, current prison guards would supervise work details. No one is hurt. The project just involves investing the same money in ways that society gets a financial return for it, thereby helping alleviate a national debt that threatens to eventually cripple the economy, aside from the key benefits of stopping terror and promoting a better, safer society.

This is an issue that all can agree upon and it’s a necessary one. Conservatives should be supportive of this because it promotes personal responsibility, rehabilitation and redemption, relieves a drain on the budget, provides tangible benefit for our tax dollars (in the form of public works and military resources) and provides the tools for a safer society. Liberals should support it because, in addition to the rehabilitation and personal redemption factors, it’s an enormous social justice issue as well. One great moralist, who’s also a traditionalist, quoted an even greater one who said that when prisons are there solely to protect society, they promote freedom. But when they do more than that no one is truly free. Just look at the system and you’ll see that there’s a better way and it involves making hard labor programs the method of choice for dealing with non-violent criminals.

The benefits of initiating such a system are visible and profound. The consequences of not doing so are catastrophic. In short, this simply needs to get done. Now it’s up to all who care for society and for stopping our largest terror threat, one from within, to push Congress to act. Which members of Congress or candidates want to be popular and show leadership at the same time?

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