Prisoner Radicalization: Assessing the Threat in U.S. Correctional Institutions
by Mark S. Hamm, Ph.D.
Years from now when criminologists write their textbooks on American terrorism, the name Kevin Lamar James may appear alongside such infamous figures as Timothy McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden.
Kevin James is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2009 for conspiring to wage war against the United States. James pleaded guilty to the charge after he and three other men were indicted in 2005 for plotting to attack U.S. military facilities, Israeli government facilities and Jewish synagogues in Los Angeles.
At the time of the indictments, the FBI described the plot as the most operationally advanced since Sept. 11. Even more troubling is that James designed the plot while serving time in a California state prison.
Prisoners — especially those in gangs — have long recruited other inmates to act as their collaborators upon release. James, however, was the first gang member to radicalize inmates into joining a prison gang with a terrorist agenda.
A recent study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted by this author took a closer look at the Kevin James case as part of a larger study on radicalization in prison.
My study examined trends in prisoner radicalization — or the process by which prisoners adopt extreme views, including beliefs that violent measures must be taken for political or religious purposes — in U.S. correctional institutions.