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A Look Into the Radicalization Process in U.S Prisons


 The radicalization process in prisons is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history prison has served as a school for criminals and a university for terrorists. Prison is an ideal place to radicalize inmates with extreme ideologies. Radicalization refers to the process by which inmates adopt extreme views and beliefs that advocate violent measures to gain political or religious outcomes. Some of the characteristics that make prisoners vulnerable to radical ideologies include alienation, violent behavior, anti social attitudes and a need for protection. Since the conditions of prison life make inmates vulnerable, they are especially open to radicalization and extreme ideologies. There are many examples throughout history of radical ideologies which were born and spread in prison. One major example is Adolf Hitler who wrote Mein Kemp while imprisoned. This book of extreme ideology influenced many and became his vision for the future of the German state.  In the U.S. right wing organizations such as Aryan Nation, Klu Klux Klan and the Order have used prisons to recruit members for decades. Aryan Nations had an outreach program with inmates all the way back in the 1970’s.8 The radical beliefs of these white supremacy groups make them appealing to white inmates who feel a need to belong to a group of their common race.8 No matter what the racial content of the group, each one uses the vulnerability of inmates and the conditions in prison to spread their ideology, recruit members and carry out violent actions. While radical ideologies can emerge from any religion, Islam is no exception in the prison system. Radical Islam has its roots in prison from many years ago. For example, Sayid Qutb who was imprisoned in 1954 for his role in the attempt to assassinate president Nasser. While serving in Egypt he wrote the book Milestones which is  considered to be very influential for violent jihadist groups. Another example is Abu Muhammad Al –Maqdisi who is one of the most important living Jihadi ideologue.4 He was imprisoned in Jordan in 1995 for 15 years and during that time in prison he sought out new recruits. His most famous recruit in prison was Abu Musab Al Zarqawi who became the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. In an interview Al-Maqdisi describes his activities in prison. He claims that in prison he produced and distributed ideological literature, used visits to communicate with the outside world, held alternative prayers to draw in new recruits and refused to cooperate with prison authorites.4 He wrote an article on prison life called “Prison: Heavens and fires”, which describes how the prison experience can bring someone closer to the faith. The article states that in prison you can dedicate yourself to “obeying g-d, worshipping him, memorizing the Koran, spreading dawa and learning from others to become stronger for jihad”.4 Although radical Islamic ideologies in prison had their roots abroad, the influence eventually reached U.S. prisons as well. The entrance of radical Islam into the U.S prison system is considered a fairly new phenomenon but its roots actually date back around 40 years ago. In the late 70’s radical teachings were already being carried out in the U.S. prison system. For example Warith Deen Umar, who was arrested in 1971 for a conspiracy to kill N.Y city police officers. He converted to the Wahabi sect of Islam while serving time on weapon charges.10 Upon his release from prison he was granted the job of Muslim chaplain where he could continue to radicalize other prisoners with the wahabi sect of Islam.10  Prisons throughout history have always served as hot bed for implementing people with radical ideologies because they are unstable environments where individuals are likely to explore new beliefs and associations. In the U.S. in 2006 there were 162,000 prisoners incarcerated in the federal prison system and six percent of the population seeking Islamic religious services.3 The number of converts to Islam in prison is estimated to be between 300,000 and 350,000 each year.3 This large group of people have the potential of becoming radicalized if they are not exposed to the proper religious training. Furthermore, they provide a vulnerable audience for possible recruits to terrorist organizations. This phenomenon of radical Islam in the U.S. prison system has yet to be fully understood and the threat to be fully assessed. While it is worth investigating  this phenomenon, it is often difficult to gather information on the subject due to the sensitivity of those involved and the secrecy of their operations. However, if law enforcement agencies want to create counter measures they must understand the extent of the problem. While researching the issue it is important to keep in mind the difference between legitimate interests in the Islamic faith and radical ideologies. Efforts should be taken to distinguish between the two and detect and prevent the spread of radical ideologies. There are so many factors that go in to prison radicalization that an inter disciplinary approach is the best way to start to tackle the problem. This article will attempt to contribute to the literature and help to understand more on how and why the radicalization process happens behind bars. Furthermore, the article will explore options that can be taken in the U.S. to combat the problem and make suggestions for the future.  


The Vulnerability of prisoners:

There are many factors that make prison a prime environment to recruit and radicalize new members. The past president of the American Correctional Chaplains Association said “the threat is real, prisons have unstable people who are on the edge of a lot of different things. The radical elements of any religion can be emphasized”.7 The prisoners are vulnerable while in prison and upon release as well. Terrorist organizations are fully aware of the sensitive nature of the inmates and therefore they are targeted as potential new members. There are a number of characteristics that many inmates entail which make them vulnerable to radical messages. These include a disaffected disposition, violent behaviors, criminal orientation and anti social habits. In addition, inmates have higher rates of mental disorders compared to the general population1. Inmates with mental health issues are more likely to have a violent past and are often disturbed and/ or discontent people. They may have a background of mental illness or behavioral issues that affects their decision making process. Furthermore, most prisoners are anti social and angry. Once they find the Salafi or violent version of Islam they can use this as an outlet for their anger and  this anger can be channeled to the “enemies” of Islam once they have gone through the radicalization process. Radical Islam offers them an entity to blame, which is often the U.S. and the west. The radical rhetoric can exploit the inmates vulnerabilities and lack of religious knowledge by providing validation for their anger with society and an outlet for violent behaviors.8 In addition, most inmates have a criminal background. The link between terrorism and crime should not be underestimated. Terrorist organizations use criminal activities to raise funds through drug sales, fraud, robbery, and counterfeiting3. Terrorist organizations and criminal gangs such as drug cartels work together for mutual benefits. Although the inspiration for criminals is monetary and for the terrorist organization it is political, the means to the goal is almost identical. The criminal gangs and terrorist organizations make tactical alliances for mutual gains3. Since there is an abundance of criminals in prison, the terrorists have many potential “partners”. Therefore, the actions of criminals and terrorists in the area of crime are often very similar and they work together to help each other reach their goals. This cooperation can spill over into the ideological field as well. The issue is that this partnership can be used to recruit otherwise non ideologically motivated petty criminals to the world of extreme Islam.  In addition to the psychological factors that give inmates an unstable predisposition, the actual conditions of prison life add to the unstable psychological status of prisoners which can make them more vulnerable to radical ideologies. These include the search for self identity, the need for physical protection, and a need to feel a sense of belonging. In prison the identity of the individual is compromised. While incarcerated the inmates are stripped of personal belongings, clothes, and symbols that represent their affiliation with a certain group. Many times inmates enter prison with already existing issues with their identity. Upon entering into prison and being stripped of any lingering characteristics of personal identity, they are pushed into an even deeper identity crisis and once in prison they look for a new identity. This “identity crisis” makes them susceptible to accept a new group identity which can be in the form of a religious organization. Becoming Muslim offers them a new identity and beyond that a new meaning to life. Religious beliefs offer entrance to a new environment. These new beliefs can be used to legitimize past actions and explain current grievances of the prisoner. Becoming Muslim can offer the prisoner entrance into a new organization. This sense of belonging gives them a new identity and is extremely important while in prison. Belonging to a group also offers benefits on two levels, one is social support and the other is physical protection. Social support and relationships are important for an individual’s physical and emotional health4. In the prison environment this is true as well, inmates strive for a sense of belonging and this can be offered by a group with commonalities such as religion. Belonging to a group also provides physical protection to guard oneself against violence. Violence runs rapid in the prison environment and physical protection is very important. Prior to being incarcerated many prisoners were members of street gangs. These types of gangs have some structural similarities with terrorist organizations. Both types of organizations have a hierarchical structure and many prisoners feel comfortable in this type of organization. Therefore, in prison they revert back to joining an organization to have someone “watch their back”.5  Many prisoners even adopt a form of Islam that is unique to prison and has the values such as gang loyalty and violence.8 Prisoners find psychological comfort and physical protection from joining such groups4. Once the individual is “in” they are influenced by the ideology of the organization. If the ideology is radical and violent the prisoner will most likely come to accept this ideology. The member of the group is also  subject to the demands of the organization, and if these demands include violent acts of jihad, then some members will take that next step to fulfill these demands. The problem is not solved after the prisoner is released. On the contrary, once released they continue to function in the new organization that they joined while in prison. Terror organizations are also aware of this and take advantage of it. For example, the group Al Haramain, a charity organization based in Saudi Arabia who is banned worldwide due to their alleged links with Osama Bin Laden. This organization had a database with information on 15,000 prisoners names, release dates, and addresses as potential recruits , they know that when the prisoners get released they will be lacking financial, emotional, and family support and the organization can offer them these things and use them2.  When the prisoners are released they continue to function within the organization and in some cases they might even become more radicalized after being released. One example is Jose Padilla who was born in N.Y but moved to Illinois and joined the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang. While serving a jail sentence he converted to Islam. While in prison Padilla practiced a moderate form of Islam, however after his release he attended a local mosque where he became radicalized.6 He was eventually arrested in 2002 on suspicion of planning to explode a dirty bomb. The fact that Padilla converted to Islam while in prison is not problematic, the issue arises upon his release when he became radicalized in a local mosque. After the radicalization process he even went to Afghanistan and later Pakistan. He was exposed to Khalid Sheik Mohammed al Qaeda chief of external operations, who guided him to carry out the attack of the dirty bomb. It must be stated that the actual conversion or practice of Islam is not always radical and does not have to be negative for the prisoner. The issue is when the person takes the next step to accept the radical from of the religion and uses it as justification to act violently. This step can happen while in the prison or upon release as in the case of Padilla. This is why it is so important to have some sort of integration program for inmates after they are released from prison.

The Process :

Now that we reviewed the characteristics that make prisoners vulnerable to extreme ideologies and organizations we can take a look at the process and how it happens. There are a few issues that allow this radicalization process to flourish in U.S prisons. First of all, there are not strict regulations of the Muslim chaplains working in prison. The only requirement for a chaplain is a “Master of divinity Degree” from an accredited residential seminary or theology school.8 The few legitimate chaplains that do exist are overstretched and understaffed, there is a lack of chaplains and Muslim spiritual leaders for the prison population.5 For example in California there are only twenty Muslim chaplains for a population of 300,000 prisoners.8 This lack of religious leaders makes the prisoners dependent on volunteer spiritual leaders or fellow inmates for religious training. The volunteers are not required to have any formal religious education which makes their ability to guide inmates questionable.8 The volunteers and chaplains are not checked and their lessons are not monitored. Prison guards are under staffed and usually do not over see the Muslim religious services. A 2004 survey claims that 193 wardens of state correctional facilities showed that only half of the religious services were physically supervised.8 Even if the services were monitored, many of the wardens are untrained in Islamic culture and religion and would not know what signs of radical elements to look for.14  There are a few cases of Muslim chaplains who worked many years in the prison system inciting hate and violence before being caught. Cases show roots of radical Islam in U.S prison going back years, suggesting this process is not new, however it was discovered a little too late.  One example is the case of Warith Deen Umar who was born July 23 1944. He was arrested in 1971 as a part of a conspiracy to kill N.Y city police officers. He converted to the Wahabi sect of Islam while serving time on weapon charges.10 Upon his release from prison he was granted the job of Muslim chaplain where he could continue to radicalize other prisoners with radical Islamic ideologies.10 . In a 2003 Wall Street Journal Report he emphasized his radical ideology by stating, “The September 11 hijackers were heroes and martyrs and the perfect recruitment training grounds for Radicalism and the Islamic religion”.10 Umar has also been heard inciting hate against America and the Jews on several occasions, recently at the I.S.N.A convention in 2009 he stated that “the Jews control the world”. 11 Not only did Umar work as a chaplain in the prison system but he also appointed other radical Muslims to work with him. For example, Yassir Ahmed, a Saudi immigrant arrested in Brooklyn in 1994 for murder. Ahmed was sentenced to 25 years in prison where he was appointed by Umar to be the chaplains clerk in Shawangunk state prison.10 His position allowed him to influence other prisoners, he was even a member of Talem circle which extorted U.S. born inmates to train with Middle East inmates on how to perform acts of Jihad.10 Another example of a radical Muslim religious leader is the Imam SaIahuddin Muhhammed who was also hired by Umar. Saluhiddin is a Salafi Muslim who works with chaplains that have ties to terrorist organizations such as Hamas. It was also discovered that he would allow inmates to make calls to the Middle East and Africa from the phone in his office.11 It is obvious that the roots of radical Islam in prisons date back many years. The chaplains appointed by Umar created a type of network of radical Islamic religious service providers in the U.S. prison system. Once this network was fully working in the prisons they had access to influence a number of inmates all over the country. Due to the lack of Muslim chaplains and non monitored volunteers and religious services, radical messages can pass freely to prisoners. The type of messages being conveyed are often referred to as “jail house Islam” which is a cut and paste version of the Quran which incorporates violent prison culture into practice.8 Another issue is the material being circulated and used in prisons.  The material brought into prison is not monitored and there are no set standards. In prisons today a version of the Quran widely available is the Noble Quran which is a wahabi/salafi English Quran.8  A problematic section of the Quran is the appendix labeled “ A Call to Jihad”.8  Extremists use footnotes to lead the reader to a radical interpretation of the text. Much of the materials and funds for Muslim religious education comes from the National Islamic Prison Foundation which was created in 1993 by the American Muslim Council. According to the president Mahdi Bray the N.I.P.F receives books and pamphlets to distribute in prison.15 The type of Islamic materials distributed are often from the Salafi school of Islam. Salafism is the most extreme interpretation of Islam in comparison to the other schools such as Hanafi, Shafa’l, Maliki and Hanbali. Salafi school comes from the Wahabi school which is mainly practiced in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has channeled funds to the N.I.P.F. as well as sending copies of the Koran to U.S prisons. This type of material has extreme undertones that can be misinterpreted by prisoners. Once an inmate is exposed to such materials he has the potential to become radicalized and  he can influence fellow inmates to go through a radicalization process as well. The radicalization process does not happen all at once but rather one step at a time, four main stages have been identified in this process including pre radicalization, search for self identity, indoctrination, and jihadization. The process can begin in prison and finish outside of prison, or the whole process can take place in prison. The first step is the pre radicalization stage. This stage consists of the prisoners beliefs, status, and ideas upon entering prison. The prisoner may have tendencies toward violence, mental illness, low self esteem and other characteristics that make him vulnerable to radical messages. The next step is the search for self identity. In this stage the prisoner looks for a sense of identity and belonging which can be found through religion. This search for self identity is even more crucial for people who have experienced a crisis. This crisis can be anything from the loss of a loved one, to being incarcerated and since most prisoners have experienced at least one crisis in their life, the stage for searching for a self identity is extremely relevant. One answer to this search for identity is religion which gives the prisoner a sense of higher meaning for his life. In addition, the salafi ideology offers an explanation to their crisis and gives them a new identity to build the new extreme identity on.3 The next step in the process is the indoctrination stage. In this stage the prisoner has accepted a radical salafi version of Islam and solidifies the extreme ideology. The indoctrination phase needs a charismatic leader to influence the prisoner. This leader can be a Muslim chaplain, volunteer, or fellow inmate. The idea is that the leader has full influence over the prisoner and can indoctrinate them with the help of ideological material. In most cases the leader will target the most vulnerable inmates who have been incarcerated for a long time.5 There are many indicators to recognize when a person is going through the radicalization process, for example, a change in behavior, attitude, appearance and style of dress. The final stage for one to carry out a violent act in the name of Islam is the jihadization stage. At this point the inmate accepts the duty to become a mujahideen or “holy warrior” and  the member will designate himself to participate in a terrorist act. Not all prisoners who become indoctrinated with extreme ideology engage in a terrorist activity but if the motivation and beliefs  are present then there is always the risk of taking the next step. It is important to note that just because a prisoner converts to Islam does not mean he will become radicalized or engage in jihad. This is a process that can be stopped and corrected at any stage. The radicalization process can affect all ages, races and backgrounds of prisoners. However, in U.S. prisons the leading population of converts to Islam in prison has been the Africa American population. In prison the disproportional number of African American young, discounted and repeated offenders offers an audience for wahabist ideology of radical Islam, with its universal appeal and sense of brotherhood.9 Wahabism promotes a split between Muslims and non Muslims in the same way there is a split between the blacks and whites in some organizations. African American inmates are good recruitment targets due to their pre existing hostility to America and authority. African American inmates have often suffered from discrimination or some feeling of injustice in the system. When these feelings mix with a new identity of extreme ideology and anti American rhetoric then there is a combination for disaster. They use violent wahabi ideology to justify violent actions against America. African Americans might be attracted to extreme Islam at a higher number as compared to whites due to the historical links of Islam as the faith of their ancestors. In the U.S African Americans make up 42 percent of the Muslim population.12 The roots of Black Islam in prison date back to 1920 when Wallace Ford, known as W.Fard Muhammad established the Nation of Islam (N.O.I), while incarcerated in California.9 The N.O.I is active even today. Problematic rhetoric that can be found on the group web site is material that advocates an independent territory or state and discriminatory material about groups such as intermixed black and white couples and Jews.17 Lois Farrakhan, the head of the N.O.I claimed it was the Muslim slaves who laid the foundation of Islam in America. One of the first  African Americans to go through the radicalization process in prison is the example of Malcolm X. He experienced racism and discrimination all through his early life. He moved to New York in 1942 where he became involved with drugs and crime.4 In 1946 he was sentenced to ten years in Massachusetts state prison for burglary and carrying a firearm.4 While in prison Malcolm followed an extreme version of Islam based on the ideas of Elijah Muhammed.4 Mohammed’s interpretation of Islam contained a radicalized narrative of the world and biblical history. However his ideas did not fit any traditional school of Islamic thought. Malcolm X was introduced to the ideas of Elijah Mohammed by his brother who would come to visit him in prison and encouraged him to accept the ideas of “The Honorable Elijah Mohammed”.4This is an example of how one can become influenced by radical ideologies while in prison even if the messages are transferred by a third party. With the number of African Americans in U.S. prison being 44% they make a large group of potential recruits. One group that paved the way for other black inmates to engage on the path of radical Islam was the leader of black Muslim group referred to as Al Ummah. Al Ummah was led by Jamil Al Amin known in the sixties as H. Rap Brown who is currently serving a life sentence at a prison in Colorado.17 In the 60’s Brown was a member of the Black Panther Party and is famously quoted when he said violence is “as American as cherry pie”.18 In the 70’s he served time on an armed robbery conviction in N.Y, converted to Islam and changed his name to Jamil Abdullah Al Amin. An F.B.I special agent describes the group as a “nationwide radical fundamentalist Sunni group consisting primarily of African Americans”.17 The group has an association of Mosques in cities throughout the U.S. that coordinate religious and social services mostly in the Black community.17 The groups Detroit representative Luqman Amin Abdullah was killed in 2009 in a shoot out in a warehouse in Detroit.17 . Luqman’s ideology blended Islamism with black national grievances. Terrorists organizations are aware of the African Americans historical ties with Islam, suffering of discrimination, and anger with America, all factors which make them even more susceptible to the radicalization process. The problem is that African American inmates are at an especially high risk for falling into this trap. There is no doubt that the problem exists but it is extremely difficult to handle it in a politically correct environment.9 Authorities tend to look the other way and ignore the statistics for fear of being considered racist. However, the issue should not be ignored because a solution is needed.  

 The Case studies:

There are a few cases of foiled terrorist plots that were planned and conducted from behind bars. In some of the cases the terrorists were radicalized behind bars and then attempted to carry out an attack upon release. These cases illustrate the extent of the threat and the possible motivations a prisoner might have to carry out an attack. One example is the group of four men of a homegrown terror cell that planned an attack to shoot down military planes and blow up two synagogues in the Bronx in May 2009. The attack failed because the explosives were phony as they were provided by undercover agents posed as Pakistani militants with connections to Al Qaeda.18 One law enforcement worker stated that the idea of the attack was to create a “fireball that would make the country gasp.”18 The interesting thing is that all four men seemed to be down and out on their luck, disaffected criminals and each one had their own motivation. The first member of the group was David Williams who was jailed for drug and weapon charges in 2003. He was a Muslim upon entrance into jail but while incarcerated he began to grow a beard and read the Koran. Williams brother Lord McWilliams age 20 claims that Williams wanted to carry out the attack for money. Lord McWilliams had a deadly liver disease and needed $20,000 for a liver transplant operation.7 He told his brother “Don’t worry, when you got to the doctor tell them you got the money”.7 Williams mother said that her son told her that he would give her a wad of cash on Thursday, one day after the terror plot.7  The leader of the group James Cromitie served in prison for a drug conviction. He claimed that he had been to Afghanistan where he had made contact with the group Jaish-e- Muhhamed, a Pakistani organization mostly active in the Kashmir region.18  Cromitie claimed his parents lived in Afghanistan and he was upset about the U.S. killing Muslims there.7 The third member Laguerre Payen was a Haitian citizen who converted to Islam while in prison. He was intellectually challenged and on medication for schizophrenia.7 One Muslim prayer leader said that he had a poor understanding of the faith. The fourth member Onta Williams also converted to Islam while in prison. His uncle claims that he was shaken up by the death of his mother in 2006 and a separation from his wife.7 In each case a personal crisis is obvious, in one persons case it was the death of his mother and for another one it was the terminal illness of his brother. No matter what the crisis was, it made the inmate more vulnerable to the radical messages they accepted while in prison and gave them other reasons and the willingness to carry out the attack.

Another case is of Kevin James who founded the group J.I.S in 1997 while serving  a prison sentence. James grew up in South Central Los Angeles during the urban crack epidemic of the 1980’s.13 In his adolescent years James was a member of the 76th Street Crips gang.13 By the age of 21 he was sentences ten years in prison for robbery. While in prison James practiced a traditional American form of Islam called the Nation of Islam but later drifted toward an even more extreme group called Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is Saheed or JIS. The J.I.S is a fringe group of Sunni Muslims. James started to spread the messages of JIS to other inmates. He eventually wrote a document called the JIS protocols, a document that described his personal beliefs and interpretation of the Koran. The protocols justified killing “infidels” ,a demand to swear loyalty to the organization and keep all operations secret.13 James used his experience and connections with the Crips gang to spread his protocols. He would use “kites” a system of smuggling letters to spread his messages.5 Then in 2003 he was transferred to New Folsom, a maximum security prison in Sacramento. In New Folsom he continued to spread his protocols and by 2004 he had a following of several dozen inmates.13   James organization J.I.S. managed to bring together members of rival gangs such as the Crips and Bloods and unite under Islam.5 While in New Folsom, James met  inmate Levar Washington, a 25 year old from South Central  Los Angeles who was serving a three year sentence for robbery. Washington had been a member of the Rolling Sixties Crips and he had recently converted to Islam. James instructed Washington to recruit five people without felony records, acquire firearms and find people with knowledge on explosives once he was on parole.13 Six months after Washington was released on parole he recruited two men without criminal records. One was Gregory Patterson 21 years old who recently converted to Islam and Hammad Samana, a Pakistani who taught Arabic at a Mosque in South Central Los Angeles. James had devised a plot to be carried out September 11, 2005, exactly four years after the 9/11 attacks. The plan was to attack U.S army recruiting office because it was a symbol of the Iraq war as well as the Synagogues in the area and the Israeli consulate. James continued to lead the operation from prison. He told the men to raise money for the attacks by robbing gas stations and convenient stores. Their plot was discovered by federal agents because during one of the robberies one of the group members dropped his telephone. The information received from the phone eventually led to the indictment of the four men. By March 2009 Washington and Patterson pleaded guilty to conspiring to use terrorism and to posses and use firearms. James also pleaded guilty for plotting to wage war on the U.S. This case serves as a big wake up call for the reality of what happens in prisons. J.I.S. preached radical ideas of Islam that went undetected by prison authorities. The fact that James and Washington had been members of street gangs enhanced their knowledge of how to use violence and run an organization. J.I.S. was structured like a street gang, they had their own hierarchy, communications system, code of conduct and collective identity. Gang intelligence officers referred to them as a “small, clandestine group that operated below the radar”.13 The fact that the group had violent gang backgrounds and had been indoctrinated with extreme interpretation of Islam influenced the members of J.I.S. to be willing to carry out a terrorist attack and serves as a lesson for what signs prison authorities should be aware of in the future.


            While there is no doubt that a problem of radicalization exists behind bars, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the threat. The following are some recommendations that can help counter the issue.

-It is crucial that more research be done on the subject of prison radicalization. While material has started to emerge on the phenomenon there has yet to be large, in depth research carried out in U.S prisons. The first step is to look at historical precedents. There are examples of such issues with groups such as the Black Nation and Aryan Brothers. Looking closely at the actions, methods, and structure of these organizations can help us gain insight on how other groups might function. However, when it comes to Islamic radicalization in prisons more information is necessary.

-Congress should be responsible for allocating resources to establish committees in order to investigate the issue and understand the extent of the threat. In order to understand the issue, professionals from all fields including behavioral sciences, criminal law, and religious experts must be brought in. Only an interdisciplinary approach will help to bring about a full comprehensive understanding of what is really happening behind bars. Understanding the process is extremely important in order to establish counter measures. If measures are established without a full understanding of the source of problem then the efforts will be unproductive. Therefore committees with experts from all fields must be established to learn and understand of the extent of this new threat.

-New Standards should be created  in order to enforce the monitoring of religious service providers and religious paraphernalia brought into prisons. Since the chaplains and religious services providers are the carriers of messages to the prison population it is important that these carriers are not conveying radical messages. Therefore, they should be screened before being allowed into the prison system. In addition, all religious services should be monitored by prison staff. Furthermore, religious material should be monitored for extreme content by screening all books, Korans, and pamphlets. Federal and state guidelines need to be set when it comes to prison chaplains and materials. When each prison has their own guidelines it is difficult to cooperate and coordinate efforts. A lack of state wide policy harms attempts at monitoring and identifying radical religious service providers. At least on a federal level steps have been taken by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) to create new standards. For example, the FBOP has created new requirements for Muslim chaplains such as thorough background checks, academic training, and field experience.

- In order for prisons to carry out the recommended oversight, prison wardens need to be trained in Islamic concepts so they know what radical elements to look for. Employees should be educated in at least the basics of Islam and they should undergo training to be able to identify signs that show radical behavior or ideology. These signs include a change in the way the prisoner dresses, behaves or a change in overall appearance, behavior and attitudes. If prison staff and chaplains can identify when a prisoner is going down a radical path then steps can be made to reverse the process before it is too late. Training prison staff requires man power and resources and therefore, to help the effort it is important to employ more Muslim chaplains and religious service volunteers to help identify radical chaplains and inmates. Prisons are already understaffed with Muslim religious advisors and therefore they often rely on fellow inmates. This is another reason it is important to increase the number of Muslim chaplains and religious providers. When the peaceful form of Islam is preached in prisons it provides an alternative to the radical forms of the religion. Therefore the efforts should be put on bringing in the type of religious service providers who will advocate moderate rather than radical forms of the religion.

-Prisoners incarcerated for political or religious extremism crimes should be isolated from the other prison population. This has been done in some European countries and can prevent extremists from influencing other prisoners and exposing them to radical ideology. It is crucial to ensure that they don’t have contact with other prisoners therefore they should be held in location where they cannot communicate with the other prisoners.   

-In addition cooperation is one of the keys to combat the radicalization in U.S. prisons. Officials on all levels must increase information sharing to help combat the issue. This means federal and local level personnel should increase communication and work together to understand and counter the problem. Each law enforcement and government agency has their own resources. Therefore the biggest benefits occur when they put resources together to combat the issue. One example of efforts to cooperate is centers created by the California state government. These include the Joint Regional Intelligence Centers (JRIC’s) and the Regional Threat Assessment Centers (RTAC’s). These centers are composed of representatives from prison staff, L.A county sheriff department, L.A.P.D. , F.B.I., and D.E.A. These centers were established to bring people from different agencies together in order to share intelligence information. Another example of good cooperation is in N.Y. By 2005 N.Y.P.D. and the F.B.I began to establish a joint prison monitoring system to track prison radicalization within state prisons.8 The system is built of the gang intelligence units at the state and city level. The units share intelligence collected in prisons and jails.8  This is good example of how law enforcement can cooperate on the state and city levels. When cooperation and information sharing happens on multiple levels, the actions taken can be more effective. Since the issue is multi disciplinary it requires cooperation from all types of professionals. This cooperation can lead to a more successful outcome.

-After the release of a prisoner, information about the prisoner should be shared among  agencies such as passport control, F.B.I, C.I.A, police and sheriff departments etc… This will allow law enforcement agencies to monitor the person and track their actions. In the U.K for example, the Metropolitan police counter terrorism command has a prison intelligence unit. This unit increases the exchange of information between London’s prisons and external police and security agencies. This way agencies can share information that will allow them to track the prisoners progress and direction upon release. This will increase the ability to identify and take action against a former inmate if he is beginning or continuing a path of further radicalization.

-The final recommendation is to establish a reintegration program for released prisoners. 95% of inmates will eventually return to their communities and therefore the re integration program is just as important to prevent and handle the issue of radicalization. When prisoners are released they are often out of touch with family and without work. This makes them especially vulnerable because they are looking for a group to belong to and a way to survive. If they are not given the skills to function as a member in society then they are likely to revert back to crime and violence. Often the local Mosque provides them with financial and social support. However, if they are exposed to radical ideologies upon release then they can fall back into extreme version of Islam. This is why an aftercare program is so important. The inmate must be monitored and given the skills to be a functioning member of society. After care is designed to help prisoners ease back into society and sustain their new life while refraining from terrorism. When prisoners are released it is important that they have a community that they can relate to and gain social support from.  Another important element of re integration is the vocational training. When they are given the opportunity to work and support themselves they will have a better chance at staying away from crime related to terrorism. In addition they must go through religious training of a moderate form. This will allow them to fulfill their spiritual/religious needs but in a monitored environment to make sure they are not turning to radical elements of the religion. All of the efforts are more successful if carried out with the support of the community and family. With a combination of these efforts inmates can be guided once they are released. It is just as important to allocate resources to inmates who are released as those who are incarcerated. Due to the sensitivity of returning to the mainstream ex prisoners run the risk of radicalization upon release and therefore it is necessary to implement some program to help them integrate back into mainstream society without depending on radical ideology and extremist environment.


Prisons have always been a breeding ground for radical ideologies. Any religion or political philosophy can be the starting point for radical ideologies. Some of the most extreme literature has emerged from behind bars such as Hitlers Mein Kampf and Sayid Qutb’s Milestones. Prison offers the perfect environment to influence people with extreme ideologies. While incarcerated inmates are isolated, looking for protection, and often experiencing a personal crisis. In addition prisoners share certain characteristics such as anti social attitudes, violent tendencies and anger issues. These traits along with the prison environment make a perfect breeding ground for radical ideologies and recruits to terrorist organizations. Prisoners are highly vulnerable to extreme messages and when someone is vulnerable and angry all at the same time it makes  a combination for accepting radical ideologies. The terrorist organizations and other extremists are aware of this vulnerable and captive audience and therefore they are specifically targeted. While incarcerated the prisoner might go through a long radicalization process before carrying out an attack if even getting that far. The radicalization process includes exposure to extreme religious messages and radical content, accepting violence as a way to gain preferred outcome and becoming radicalized. Radical Islam in the prison system has its roots dating back many years ago when a network was established of chaplains who preached radical forms of Islam in the prison system. Due to a few terrorism plots carried out by inmates and ex inmates the problem is starting to become exposed. Two main examples are the group J.I.S in the California prison system and the group Al Ummah both which planned attacks on U.S. targets. Although the issue of radicalization in the U.S. prison system is not new, it definitely is not understood well enough. The lack of open resources and reluctance of prison authorities to share information makes it difficult to draw concrete conclusions. Therefore the first recommendation is to allocate man power and resources to research the issue better so the proper counter measures can be taken. In addition, more religious service providers must be hired for the federal prison system. There is a major lack of Muslim religious service providers and they are spread thin. The religious workers who do operate must be screened and standards must be set across the country. Religious paraphernalia must also be screened in order is to prevent radical messages from being spread. In order to monitor the messages being transmitted, training programs need to be provided to prison officials so that they can know what signs to look for. Cooperation must take place on all levels, when law enforcement agencies share information and resources the problem can be handled better. Finally re integration programs with after care must be implemented because upon release prisoners are still vulnerable to radical messages. This is a time when they need support, finances and help to guide them onto a path for a productive new life. With a proper after care program they can decrease the chances to turn to violent activities and radical ideologies. While all of the recommendations require a large amount of financial resources  and manpower it is well worth it. The problem of radicalization in U.S prisons is one that can be controlled. If steps are not taken now, the problem could just grow further out of control. Other countries in Europe can provide examples of ways to deal with radicalization in prison because they have to deal with it on a day to day basis. In England for example, captured terrorists are isolated from ordinary criminals. This policy began many years ago when the British had to deal with the Irish terrorist organization the I.R.A. and it proved to be efficient. Isolation of captured terrorists allowed for the regular inmates to preserve original hierarchy and prevent terrorists from communicating with and influencing other prisoners.14 Especially since the 1970’s Muslim inmates have been growing, with France and Britain having the largest population of Muslims in Western Europe. Therefore we can look at these countries as a model to see what happens when the issue expands. Although it might seem easier to turn away and ignore what really goes on behind bars, it is just not feasible. Since prisoners can influence what happens on the outside world, the issues behind bars are relevant to society as a whole. When talking about radicalization and terrorism within prison, it is an issue that can’t be ignored. Resources must be allocated in order to better understand the extent of the threat. Once law enforcement agencies have a better understanding of the problem, guidelines can be set on how to carry out counter measures. If the issue of radicalization in the U.S. prison system is not halted, we don’t know where it could lead and what the eventual effects could be. 

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