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The First Step Act could allow the Nation of Islam to run prisoner early release programs

Conservative Review

Conservatives are outraged that anti-Semitic bigot Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has been receiving taxpayer dollars to operate religious study programs for federal prisoners. What few seem to realize is the religious education program run by Farrakhan's hate cult is exactly the type of program that will be used to grant federal prisoners early release under the First Step Act criminal justice reform legislation.

On Wednesday, the Washington Examiner's Alana Goodman reported that the Nation of Islam has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice to conduct religious education programs for federal inmates.

The Nation of Islam and its leaders have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. government since 2008 to teach religious study programs for federal prison inmates, according to records reviewed by the Washington Examiner.

A black nationalist group led by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam preaches that white people are “blue-eyed devils” and Jews are “the synagogue of Satan." Its leaders have received at least $364,500 in contracts and awards from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2019.

The funding was designed to provide "Nation of Islam religious services," "Nation of Islam spiritual guide services," "Nation of Islam study services," and other related programming led by the organization’s leaders, according to Bureau of Prison records. The Nation of Islam has been labeled a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It boggles the mind that beginning under the Obama administration, the federal government has been paying a religious group for religious instruction to prisoners, particularly a religious hate group like the Nation of Islam. Doesn't the Left demand complete separation of church and state, after all? Seeming hypocrisy aside, this kind of policy betrays the danger of provisions in the First Step Act under a future left-wing Democratic administration.

Conservative Review's Daniel Horowitz has written at length about the vague and ill-defined legal requirements for recidivism reduction programs that will grant early release in the criminal justice bill the Senate passed Wednesday and the House will likely pass today. Under the proposed law, a prisoner will earn good time credits for "every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities." Congress punted the responsibility of defining those programs to the administrative state. "Productive activities" is likewise ill-defined as "either a group or individual activity that is designed to allow prisoners determined as having a minimum or low risk of recidivating to remain productive and thereby maintain a minimum or low risk of recidivating." What activities qualify? Ask the attorney general and unelected bureaucrats in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to make those decisions, not elected lawmakers.

The bureaucrats are directed to partner with outside groups to develop those programs and activities. Section 102(h)(5) of the First Step Act requires that the DOJ enter into partnership with "nonprofit and other private organizations, including faith-based, art, and community-based organizations that will deliver recidivism reduction programming on a paid or volunteer basis." The discernment of which groups qualify for federal contracts is delegated by Congress to the attorney general, and as the DOJ partnership with the Nation of Islam demonstrates, federal contracts will be made available to radical groups under a leftist administration. Those radical groups will design "anti-recidivism" programs, and convicted criminals will earn points towards early release for participating in them.

Is it good governance to qualify federal inmates for good time credits based on participation in a religious program run by a Jew-hating proponent of violence? A prisoner could get out of jail early for being indoctrinated by a hate group.

But surely, you say, the government will be allowed to reject partnerships with hate groups like the Nation of Islam? An anti-discrimination provision of the First Step Act lauded by some conservative lawmakers may actually protect a group like the Nation of Islam from losing its federal contract. Section 106 of the law is titled "Faith-Based Considerations" and states: "In considering any program, treatment, regimen, group, company, charity, person or entity of any kind under any provision of this Act or the amendments made by this Act, the fact that it may be or is faith-based may not be a basis for any discrimination against it in any manner or for any purpose." This opens the door wide for progressive lawyers to endlessly litigate to protect federal contracts for radical religious groups running anti-recidivism programs in federal prisons. Perhaps it won't specifically be the Nation of Islam, but there is a known threat of Islamic radicalization in U.S. prisons. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated CAIR have previously filed civil rights lawsuits to protect radical clerics with terrorist sympathies from being terminated from positions in partnership with the government. Radical Islamic groups don't think they're radical. They will sue against discrimination.

The broad and unspecific language of the First Step Act will lead to unintended consequences, particularly in the hands of a left-wing presidential administration. Radical groups will take advantage of partnerships with the government to run early release programs, a left-wing administration will permit it to happen, and legions of lawyers will litigate to defend those contracts from a future conservative administration seeking to end those programs.

In the meantime, violent criminals will be let out of prison early for learning to hate.

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