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Prisoner Radicalization: Assessing the Threat in U.S. Correctional Institutions

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 261 Dated: October 2008 Pages: 14-19
Date Published
October 2008
6 pages
This study examined trends in prisoner radicalization in U.S. correctional institutions, i.e., the process by which prisoners adopt extreme views, including beliefs that violent measures must be taken for political or religious purposes.
The research found that although only a small percentage of converts to such radicalism engaged in terrorist action, gang intelligence officers in Florida and California reported uncovering potential terrorist plots by prison inmates. The most famous case involved Kevin Lamar James, who pled guilty to the charge of conspiring to wage war against the United States after being indicted in 2005, along with three other inmates, for plotting to attack U.S. military facilities, Israeli Government facilities, and Jewish synagogues in Los Angeles. The FBI described the plot as the most operationally advanced since the 9/11 attacks. Other findings of this study are that inmate leadership is the most important factor in prisoner radicalization, and radicalization in prisons is linked to prison gangs. On the positive side, the research shows that prisoners who convert to a non-Judeo-Christian religion are primarily searching for meaning and identity; and in most cases, the conversion experience has a positive influence on prisoner rehabilitation. Recommendations for addressing radicalization and terrorist recruitment in prison are to hire more prison chaplains to counter prisoner radical religious beliefs, diversify corrections personnel to include more staff who are Muslims, train staff on the recruitment activities of gangs, and increase the knowledge base on radicalization and terrorist recruitment. The 2-year study included a literature review and approximately 140 hours of interviews with 15 prison chaplains, 9 gang intelligence officers, and 30 inmates incarcerated for violent crimes in Florida and California. 1 figure and 17 notes

Date Published: October 1, 2008