MUSLIMS IN PRISON | Globe Editorial

Rep. King finds a new target

New York Representative Peter King New York Representative Peter King (Associated Press)
June 15, 2011

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THE FURY surrounding New York Representative Peter King’s March hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-American communities was an embarrassment for the House and its Homeland Security Committee. Not a single meaningful recommendation came from the politically charged investigation. The only memorable moment was when Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, broke down as he spoke of a falsely accused Muslim New York City paramedic who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, King will hold a second hearing that will look at the radicalization of Muslims in US prisons. It lacks the drama and emotion of the first. Indeed, the silence surrounding it is deafening. Likely, after the death of Osama bin Laden, it is more difficult for King to whip up fears that the Obama administration is going soft on terrorism.

But, as with King’s first hearing, there is a germ of truth in his concerns, if not his intensive focus on Muslim-Americans. Radicalization is clearly a growing problem in prisons. A 2008 study by the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice showed a link between prison gangs, radicalization, and violence. Many corrections officers are now trained to identify prisoners who adopt extreme views.

In general, the prison conversion process, to any religion, is seen as making a meaningful contribution to prisoner rehabilitation. But in rare instances, that conversion turns to actual violence. The best solution would be to diversify corrections personnel, to address prison overcrowding, and especially to provide further training to staff on shifting power relations among prisoners and how they can lead to gang-related violence.

But almost none of this has to do with terrorism or the Muslim-American community. The issues before King’s committee are for the Department of Justice and state and local corrections officials. The House Homeland Security Committee — which oversees a vast department whose mandate covers immigration, tornadoes, flooding, and terrorism, to name a few — would do better to stick to its jurisdiction. No matter how much — or little — public attention it garners in the process.