Can Deradicalization Replace Prison For Terrorists?

Nine Somali-American men convicted in Minnesota for plotting to aid the Islamic State will soon be sentenced for their terroristic schemes.

As they go before Judge Michael J. Davis on November 14 they face up to 15 years in jail.

However, Judge Davis is considering instead sentencing them to a program of deradicalization, a re-education program that aims to draw the young men away from their radical ideas and eventually bring them to a place where they pose no threat to society and can lead normal lives, according to the magazine Wired.

If he sentences them to such a program, it will be the first time an American judge has chosen such an option and it will be monitored closely to see if it can work.

The advantages of any such program for those selected to attend are obvious, it’s a path back to society far less brutal than the experience of prison.

It also has the added value of potentially building trust with the community from which these young men come, which may then be more inclined to speak with law enforcement and cooperate earlier in the process if they feel a person they know is being radicalized.

In February, Davis hired German deradicalization expert Daniel Koehler to found the District of Minnesota’s Terrorism Disengagement and Deradicalization Program. Koehler will provide recommendations on each of the nine men to be sentenced about their suitability for deradicalization, which will influence Davis’ decision.

Koehler’s approach entails gradually broadening the horizons of the subject so that they come to see more options in life than simply taking up arms to fight against their perceived enemies.

Davis charged Koehler with assessing why each man became radicalized in the first place and to propose a plan for tempting them away from their views.

It is too early to tell if the program will work or not, assuming Davis does opt for a court-mandated deradicalization program instead of a prison sentence. It’s worth remembering those facing sentencing did not actually get around to carrying out any terrorist attacks as they were halted by the timely actions of the FBI.

But if this punishment is meted out, it could completely change the way the government handles its approach to terrorism suspects.


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