Since post 9/11, Muslim prisoners have been closely looked at for ties to extremist or radical groups on the outside of prisons. This is no secret as the Department of Justice (DOJ) often reports on such findings through their annual reports on prison populations and radicalization trends.
Since the Kingman riots in the first week of July, the Arizona prisons have been on the verge of imploding due to misunderstandings and misconceptions on Muslim needs or practices. Muslims celebrate Ramadan which in most cases, is a peaceful demonstration of their faith. When there are cultural misunderstandings, disrespect or ignorance issues, there are always chances of conflict and that’s a management issue in teaching religious sanctities as well as cultural diversity training.
It is a foregone conclusion that the Muslim prison population will be looking for the courts to find relief and protection under the law. It will seek to expand their right to worship and practice their worship exercises in a more lenient manner than it is today. Ramadan, a month long celebration is tolerated but often ridiculed or subject to bad jokes and offensive inconclusive misunderstandings. We should expect more lawsuits coming from the Muslim population within the next few months or at the very least, some legal backlash for the inconsistent manner Muslims are being treated today.
The writing is on the wall on that matter and many more. How does this impact the elected and appointed state officials who traditionally and politically been a proven interference or barrier to acquiring better living conditions inside prisons. Prisons cost money and special accommodations are just not on the negotiations table for Muslims to receive any more than the other groups inside prisons.
However, in general terms, even after the Kingman riots, none are being reported to be “threats” or “dangerous” at the moment and that’s a relief we can all live by today. As the DOJ reports no significant evidence of such influences throughout our prison systems, it is fair to say Arizona is safe from any imminent threats today.
However, this does not mean the future is safe from radicalization or influences of Muslim propaganda and other messages designed to stimulate evolution and revolution in various means. One could venture to say, approach determines response thus if the prison systems approach these Muslims with aggression or biased perceptions, the according response would be fear, and resistive posturing accordingly to the approach intensity, cultural understandings and tone.
From here on, legislators need to begin to inform themselves of the Muslim religion and focus on facts, rather than myths or other misunderstood biases. There will be various and contradictory religious related type of competing events, which may shape looming disruptive elements if this matter is ignored.
The biggest inaccuracy of the Muslim world is fear – since post 9/11 the “fear of radicalization” has dominated the newspaper and television headlines and it will be hard to ignore such worries. This will result in political fear mongering by elected and appointed officials in charge of public safety. There won’t be any fact checking and policies will be based on biased perceptions rather than a qualified and quantize research effort to develop sound best practices related to the Muslim world inside prisons.
In other words, there will be a “lessons learned” approach rather than a qualitative and quantitive study. This would be comparing facts to propaganda and will insult those informed of the religious standards and create conflict.
The prison system needs to heed cautious approaches to this topic and sensitive matter. It must avoid fueling a confrontation by not preparing staff in their responsibilities to be sufficiently trained to understand and communicate Muslim needs.
Moreover, they need to set aside the myths related to extremism and focus on the behaviors of the groups they are supervising and managing and not add any fuel to this matter by imposing predisposition or pre-determined biases to the environment. This may be interpreted as suppressive in nature and create a backlash which may cause violence.
The influence of poor policy writings and interpretation will be used essentially as oppressive and wrongful barriers towards the religion and given the opportunity to magnify any such ill written policies, prisoners may use this as a tool to organize and spread their individual religious ideology to others by showing a deliberate attempt to block or restrict Muslim religious leaders from practicing their faith.
The solution is better education and training for administrators and staff working the prison populations. Secondly, there must be a better organized effort to focus on religious pluralism inside prisons and connect those needs to the communities for pre-release considerations into the community once released from prison. This applies to all religions, not just the Muslim faction and groups.
Legislators must direct, through either a statutory resolve or a legislative order, direct Arizona prison administrators to recognize these strategies as being essential to the life cycle with broader correctional goals, including reducing recidivism and ensuring that healthy religious communities remain a source of support for prisoners and prison officials alike inside the institutions, private or public.