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Preparation: the most critical strategy for managing terrorist inmates.

Almost three years have passed since the horrific attack that resulted in the murder of nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. Today, the United States is locked in a life-and-death struggle with terrorism both at home and abroad.

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On May 1, 2004, The Washington Post reported that for the first time, the number of secret surveillance warrants issued in federal terrorism and espionage cases last year exceeded the total number of wiretaps approved in criminal cases nationwide. Also, a brief LexisNexis search for news articles related to the arrest and/or convictions of terrorists in the United States presents sobering results. The articles document arrests and/or convictions of terrorists or those with terrorist connections in numerous states, and without a doubt, a more detailed search would reveal many more occurrences in additional states. It is reassuring that our intelligence and law enforcement organizations are efficiently identifying, investigating and taking into custody terrorists throughout the country. However, it is also of great concern that no one knows how many terrorists are currently in the United States or how many continue to cross our unprotected borders. Regardless of the uncertainty of the numbers, we in corrections can be certain of three things. First, these terrorists will eventually end up in correctional facilities throughout the country serving long periods of incarceration. In addition, they will make every effort to continue terrorist activities. And finally, they will pose a serious threat to the safety, security and good order of correctional facilities.

The recent hearings of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks highlighted the lack of preparedness of this country's intelligence and law enforcement organizations to cope with terrorism. Now, many corrections experts are voicing concern that correctional agencies are not prepared to manage terrorist inmates. Of particular concern is the threat that correctional staff and facilities will become targets. This is especially true if the facility is a national symbol, such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons administrative maximum-security penitentiary in Florence, Colo., or a similar high-profile facility.

Concern about correctional strategies to manage terrorists is not new. The July 1988 issue of Corrections Today contained a very insightful article, "Terrorists in Prison Security Concerns and Management Strategies," which chronicled a visit by National Institute of Corrections staff to West Germany in an effort to acquire information about managing terrorists. The article offered several recommendations but concluded. "As always, the most important management strategy we can employ is to be prepared."

In order to adequately prepare, correctional agencies must press for better and more sophisticated equipment and specialized training. Intelligence is the key to prevention, and improvements in the sharing of information and intelligence concerning terrorist activities is essential. We must know if a threat exists against staff or an institution.

No federal, state or local correctional organization can prepare alone. This is especially true in regards to security technology. Correctional agencies must work together to use whatever money is available to focus on the development of technologies to defend against terrorism. Priority must be given to security technologies to improve intelligence gathering and dissemination, monitoring and surveillance, communications and management of weapons of mass destruction. Granted, there are a number of other pressing needs for security technology, but if they do not contribute directly to defending against terrorism, they should be put aside.

As we struggle in the post-9/11 environment, there are two special areas of immediate concern regarding security technology and correctional readiness. Corrections is in desperate need of a resource for systematically identifying, testing and evaluating security technologies. Such a resource would include a repository for information from testing and evaluation performed elsewhere in federal and state government, and industry. Without a method to evaluate technologies for their applicability to prisons or jails, the result is a nonuniform and costly application of technology.

It is time to get tough with vendors. There simply has not been enough accountability demanded of vendors marketing technology to corrections. There are too many instances during which a correctional organization has expended valuable resources on a technology that later proved unable to meet requirements or simply did not work as advertised. Obviously, there is truth to the concept of "buyer beware." It is the responsibility of any correctional agency to develop accurate requirements and make every effort to obtain technology that meets those requirements. However, vendors must be put on notice that if they willingly misrepresent the capability of their product, they will be subject to repercussions. More organizations like the Northeast Technology Product and Assessment Committee should be formed by correctional organizations to provide a forum for the exchange of information about vendors of security technologies and their products. Vendors that consistently produce poor products and services should be identified and excluded from the corrections market.

Corrections in the United States is a massive function consisting of nearly 5,000 facilities and employing thousands of people. It presents complex jurisdictional, political, organizational and operational issues. Because of this, it is easy to fall into a sense of complacency by rationalizing that "terrorism does not really affect me." The fact is that the war on terrorism, like the war on drugs, affects every correctional facility in this country and it is going to be with us for a long time. Recognizing that fact and preparing in every possible way is critical to correctional staff safety and the security of every correctional facility in this country. Certainly in corrections, we do not have the resources to defend against everything. But we can set priorities and we can ensure a level of preparation for every prison and jail in this country.

By Allan Turner, D.P.A.

Research Professor

George Mason University

Manassas, Va.
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Title Annotation:Guest Editorial
Author:Turner, Allan
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:966
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