Journal of Human Security | 2013 | Volume 9 | Issue 1 | Pages 4-14
DOI: 10.12924/johs2013.09010004
ISSN: 1835-3800
Research Article
The Radicalisation of Prison Inmates: Exploring Recruitment,
Religion and Prisoner Vulnerability
Elizabeth Mulcahy
, Shannon Merrington
and Peter Bell
Faculty of Arts, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
School of Business, St. Lucia Campus, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Faculty of Law, School of Justice, Gardens Point Campus, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland,
Australia; E-Mail:; Tel.: +61 7 3138 7105; Fax: +61 7 3138 7123
* Corresponding author
Submitted: 24 January 2013 | In revised form: 11 March 2013 | Accepted: 12 March 2013 |
Published: 31 March 2013
Abstract: It should come as no surprise that prisons can become breeding grounds for
radicalisation and terrorism [1]. In many cases, extremist ideologies can flourish in prisons
through recruiting vulnerable inmates to follow their path. Despite being a popular topic among
researchers and policymakers, there still remain significant gaps in our understanding and many
unanswered questions. This paper provides an overview on prisoner radicalisation, specifically
exploring the role religion plays in prison and its link to radicalisation, prisoner vulnerability to
radicalisation and the radicalisation process. The paper also outlines the current debate
regarding where is the best place to house terrorist prisoners (isolation vs. separation). The
paper concludes by identifying the major gaps in the literature and offers concluding remarks.
Keywords: radicalisation; terrorism; prisons
1. Introduction
Prisoner radicalisation is not a recent phenomenon
and yet it is an area that is misunderstood and
theoretically underdeveloped. Throughout history
prisons have served as recruitment centres and
headquarters for ideological extremists (such as
Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler), where they used their
time behind bars to develop extremist philosophies
and recruit others into their mode of thinking [2].
Some of the most powerful criminal groups, such as
the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) in São Paulo,
Brazil, and the Commando Vemelho (Red Command)
in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, originated in prisons [3].
Even so, since 11 September 2001 (9/11) several
individuals have been radicalised while being
incarcerated [4]. For example, prisoner Richard Reid
converted to Islam while incarcerated and when
released attempted to smuggle explosives on an
American airline flight in December 2001 [5].
Research suggests that many prisoners enter prison
with little or no religious calling, but over the duration
© 2013 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
of their incarceration some adopt a faith (e.g. Islam)
[6]. However, of those who convert to Islam only a
very small percentage will turn into radical extremists
and an even smaller percentage will go on to join a
terrorist organisation [7]. An interesting study
conducted by the United States Senate, Committee on
the Judiciary, claim that roughly 80% percent of
prisoners within America turn to Islam when seeking
for faith behind bars [6]. This percentage translates
into a prisoner conversion rate of approximately
30,000 yearly [7].
Prisons by their very nature are hostile environments
(e.g. their isolation, cultural dissatisfaction, and
predisposition for violent tendencies) and as such are
susceptible to radicalisation extremists [8]. The 2009
World Prison Population List estimates that more than
9.8 million people are held in penal institutions around
the world and almost a third of these are in the
United States (USA, 2.29 million [9]). Even more
interesting, is that around 300 federal prisoners in the
US are serving sentences on terrorism-related charges
[8]. Terrorists jailed for criminal activities can thrive in
prison. Recruiters are able to spot, assess, and
encourage potential recruits to follow their path, drawing
from a constantly regenerating pool of candidates
[10,11]. Terrorist recruitment therefore "operates in
the deep underground of inmate subculture, between
the seams of prison gangs and extremist religions that
inspire ideologies of intolerance, hatred, and violence"
([7], p. 111). This type of environment allows terrorist
recruitment to flourish and can remain virtually
undetected. However, with the many advances in
technology, education and increased prison personnel,
these advances are making it extremely hard for
terrorist recruitment to remain undetected.
Prisoner radicalisation is a popular topic of
discussion; however, despite this recognition it has not
been fully explored and is a phenomenon that is not
well understood [1,12]. Furthermore, the process of
radicalisation in prisons in particular is poorly
understood because of the very limited information
researchers can obtain and this consequently
obstructs the development or improvement of
effective intervention methods [4]. Radicalisation, by
most accounts, can create the motivational or
cognitive preconditions for terrorism and therefore it
is important that we understand the prerequisite for
effectively combating terrorism [13].
An even more interesting and well-rehearsed
argument among researchers and practitioners is that
there has been an inadequate effort to define
radicalisation [14]. According to the Oxford English
Dictionary (OED) to radicalise is to: 1) cause
(someone) to become an advocate of radical political
or social reforms and 2) introduce fundamental or far-
reaching change [15]. Only recently has the OED
defined radicalisation. Radicalisation according to the
OED means: "The action or process of making or
becoming radical, esp. in political outlook" [15]. This
definition however, is extremely vague. Currently,
many organisations and scholars have come up with
their own definition; however, despite having some
similarities among these definitions there still lacks a
generic definition that can be used across all
disciplines and organisations. For example, the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark defines
radicalisation as "the phenomenon of people
embracing opinions views and ideas that could lead to
acts of terrorism" ([16], p. 8). This definition is very
subjective in that the radicalisation label applied to an
individual requires making an assessment about the
possible harm that an individual poses to another
party [13]. This definition is also very general, stating
that embracing any views/opinions can ultimately lead
to acts of terrorism.
In contrast, the Office of the Inspector General of
the US Department of Justice [17] claims
radicalisation is "the process by which inmates who do
not invite or plan overt terrorist acts adopt extreme
views, including beliefs that violent measures need to
be taken for political or religious purposes" (p. 6).
Similarly, a review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons'
Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers by
the Department of Justice [17] states that
radicalisation "refers to the process by which inmates
…adopt extreme views including beliefs that violent
measures need to be taken for political or religious
purposes" (p. 6). This places more emphasis on the
cognitive (that views and beliefs justify violence) and
behavioural aspects (invitation to join a group) [13].
These definitions acknowledge that radicalisation is a
process and, unlike the definition by the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs of Denmark, they state that
radicalisation is when an individual adopts 'extremist'
views, rather than simply adopting any opinions or
views. More recently, Fraihi [18] provides a succinct
definition which brings us closer to defining
radicalisation. In a recent essay Fraihi [18] states:
Radicalization is a process in which an individual's
convictions and willingness to seek for deep and
serious changes in the society increase. Radicalism
and radicalization are not necessarily negative.
Moreover, different forms of radicalization exist. This
concentration on the individual is indicative of the
focus of expert and government concern (p. 135).
An important distinction from the previous
definitions is that Fraihi [18] acknowledges that not all
radicalisation is negative and that radicalisation is not
always a precursor to terrorism. It also suggests that
radicalisation is an individual experience, whereby the
individual has to be 'willing' to undergo some deep or
serious change. Moreover, it is a psychological process
where individuals move towards more extremist
views [19].
As with radicalisation, terrorism also seems to be a
hard concept to define. Bilgi [20] outlines that this
stems from two main reasons: first, the term
terrorism is often interpreted as a pejorative concept,
meaning that those who are defined as terrorists are
said to 'deserve the blame', and secondly, terrorism is
used in highly emotive settings, meaning that
terrorism is often associated with violence, death, and
war. Although these reasons make it seem impossible
to define, it is not an impossible task to do so. For
example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and
violence against persons or property to intimidate or
coerce a government, the civilian population, or any
segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social
objection" ([20], p. 12). While the European Union's
Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism defines
it as:
An intentional act which may seriously damage a
country or an international organisation, committed
with the aim of seriously intimidating a population,
unduly compelling a Government or an international
organisation to perform or abstain from performing
any act, seriously destabilizing or destroying
fundamental political, constitutional, economic or
social structures by means of attacks upon a
person’s life, attacks upon the physical integrity of
a person, kidnapping, hostage-taking, seizure of
aircraft or ships, or the manufacture, possession or
transport of weapons or explosives (cited in the
European Report [21], p. 6).
This is a legal definition of terrorism and, as such,
only partially overlaps with those used by academics.
There are hundreds of definitions of terrorism, often
emphasising a variety or feature of terrorism such as:
…its often symbolic in nature, its often
indiscriminate nature, its typical focus on civilian
and non-combatant targets its sometimes
provocative and retributive aims, the disruption of
public order and endangering of public security, the
creation of a climate of fear to influence an
audience wider than the direct victims as well as its
disregard of the rules of war and the rules of
punishment ([22], p. 6).
Many scholars have also come up with their own
definition of terrorism. For example, Jenkins [23]
defines terrorism as "the use or threatened use of
force to bring about change" (p. 3). Similarly,
Sederberg defines terrorism as "the threat or use of
violence for political purposes when such action is
intended to influence the attitudes and behaviour of a
target group wider than its immediate victim" (cited in
[24], p. 4). What is common among these definitions
is that terrorism includes the unlawful use of violence
with the aim of pursuing political or social objectives
that target enemies [20]. Also, many scholars agree
that the root cause or procurer of terrorism is not
radicalisation—simply because not all radicals become
terrorists [25].
Today, many governments, especially Western
governments (after the 9/11 attack) are concerned
about the threat of terrorism and are primarily
focused on what is called 'Radical Islam', a term
defined as "the politico-religious pursuit of
establishing—if necessary by extreme means—a
society which reflects the perceived values from the
original sources of Islam as purely as possible" ([26],
p. 3). However, it is important to note that 'Radical
Islam' does not always mean violence and cannot be
a sufficient cause of terrorism because most radicals
are not terrorists [13,25].
Overall, it is a well known argument among
scholars that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' definition of
radicalisation or terrorism that will satisfy all
disciplines and practitioners. The terms radicalisation
and terrorism are not precise concepts but rather
pejorative labels, and therefore it is not surprising that
there has been an inadequate effort to define them.
This paper begins by outlining the penal system
and the role of religion. Next, it outlines the different
types of recruitment methods employed by Islamic
extremist groups and discusses the process of
radicalisation. Finally, it concludes by examining an
ongoing debate as to whether terrorists should be
isolated, concentrated, or separated from ordinary
2. Prision and Religion
Some prisons are notorious for being harsh
environments and for many inmates religion is one of
the methods used to cope with the prison
environment [27]. There is a belief, especially in
prisons in the US, that religion plays a profound and
necessary role in the creation and maintenance of a
moral and law abiding community [28]. For example,
religion is widely practised among the two million
prisoners in the US [28]. In the United Kingdom (UK),
the Muslim population has risen from 4,298 in 2000 to
10,672 in 2011 [29]. In the US approximately 350,000
inmates are Muslim (2003) and 80% of prisoners who
convert while in prison convert to Islam [8]. Islam
conversion in prisons is not a new phenomenon and
has been present in American prisons since their
inception in the early nineteenth century ([30], p. 90).
As Lofland and Stark [31] state:
The intellectual mode of conversion commences
with an individual, private investigation of possible
new grounds of being, alternate theodicies,
personal fulfilment, etc., by reading books,
watching television, attending lectures, and other
impersonal or disembodied ways in which it is
increasingly possible sans social involvement to
become acquainted with alternate ideologies and
ways of life. In the course of such reconnaissance,
some individuals convert themselves in isolation
from any interaction with devotees of the
respective religion (p. 376).
The literature on Islam in prisons is divided into
two schools of thought. One side indicates that
Muslim groups in prison are breeding grounds for
terrorists and the other side indicates that there is no
relationship between prisoner conversion to Islam and
terrorism [7]. Nevertheless, research shows that
religion plays an important role in prison security and
rehabilitation [7]. Clear and Sumter [27] administered
self-report questionnaires to 769 prisoners from 12
state prisons and found that increasing levels of
religiosity are associated with high levels of in-prison
adjustment and are also significantly related to a
smaller number of times inmates are placed in
disciplinary confinement for violating prison rules.
O’Connor and Perreyclear [28] also found that as
religion intensified prison disciplinary infractions
Similarly, Roy [32] argues that it makes more sense
to separate theology from violence:
'The process of violent radicalisation has little to do
with religious practice, while radical theology, as
salafisme, does not necessarily lead to violence'.
The 'leap into terrorism' is not religiously inspired,
but better seen as sharing 'many factors with other
forms of dissent, either political (the ultra-left), or
behavioural: the fascination for sudden suicidal
violence as illustrated by the paradigm of random
shootings in schools (the "Columbine syndrome")'
(Roy, cited in [19], p. 21).
However, there are also cases where religion has
been used to breed terrorists. For example, Kevin
Lamar James recruited more than a dozen fellow
prisoners into a terrorist group called Jam'iyyat Ui-
Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS) [7]. According to Ian
Cuthbertson, James convinced these men that his
interpretation of the Koran (called the JIS Protocol)
was the true version [10]. Members of JIS were also
recruited outside prison walls. Prospective JIS
members outside prison were instructed to blend into
society by marrying, getting a job, dressing casually
and needed to acquire two pistols with silencers and
learn how to make bombs [33]. These men were later
instructed to attack government agencies and military
stations throughout the US [10,33].
Another case is Jamal 'el Chino' Ahmidan who
embraced jihadist principles while serving time and is
the mastermind behind the 2004 Madrid train
bombings. Richard Reid, known as the 'shoe
bomber', who attempted to blow up an American
Airline flight between Paris and Miami in 2001, also
converted to Islam while serving time for a string of
muggings [7,34].
3. Vulnerability
When a person becomes imprisoned it is common for
the individual to go through physical and emotional
trauma that can make them more vulnerable to
recruitment. For example, in the beginning when an
individual is placed in jail, acute and chronic stress
factors can give rise to physical problems (e.g. sleep
disorders, loss of appetite, etc.) which can make the
prisoner more impressionable and vulnerable. At this
moment recruiters can enter into contact with the
new prisoner and evaluate their vulnerability and
likeliness to conform to their extremist group [35]. It
is also common for incarcerated individuals to
undergo unbalanced emotional states, such as states
of discontentment-excitement (hate, anger, doubt)
and states of discontent-relation (humiliation, fear,
sadness) [35]. This unbalanced emotional state is
ideal for possible recruiters to infiltrate the minds of
the impressionable.
There are also instances where an incarcerated
individual can lose their grip on their individual
identity. This is most prominent in foreigners who are
incarcerated in another country and do not speak the
language [35]. For instance, in the UK, the proportion
of foreign national prisoners has increased steadily
over the past decade. In the 1990s the foreign
population accounted for around 8% of the total
population and this increased to 13% by 2012 [29].
Many of these foreign prisoners have little knowledge
of the country, let alone the culture of the country,
and to top it off many do not speak the language
(having lived, worked and/or socialised in their
immigrant communities) [10], thus making the
individual more susceptible and vulnerable to
extremist groups.
One theory that can help us understand prisoner
vulnerability is the Transformative Learning Theory
(TLT) developed in the 1990s by Jack Mezirow. This is
a framework for understanding how change (learning)
occurs in individuals—more specifically, how adults
learn and adapt to new environments [36,37]. In this
instance we are using it to understand the behavioural
changes prisoners undergo while in prison and how
this learning transformation makes them more
vulnerable to radical extremists.
When an individual goes through some sort of crisis
(known as the transformative trigger), the individual
uses pre-existing habits to make sense of the event
[36]. However, when the individual cannot make
sense of the situation and resorting back to their
habitual ways fails to help them manage the event
this becomes known as a 'distortion'. As a result, the
individual reacts to the meaning distortion by
exploring new experiences and undergoing critical
reflection (e.g. turning to religion for guidance) [36].
These new perspectives help the individual cope with
the new environment by helping create new
behaviours, roles, and relationships [36,38]. Overall,
this transformation allows individuals to manage their
new environment, adapt to a new daily routine and
ultimately help an individual learn how to get past a
crisis [36]. However, going through a crisis can make
the individual easier to persuade and even more open
to manipulation and brainwashing [35], thus making
them very susceptible to extremist recruitment.
TLT can help shed light on the process and
precursors of prison radicalisation. Individual
radicalisation is not only associated with particular
socio-political contexts (e.g. prison) and personal
characteristics, but is also a combination of reflection,
knowledge acquisition and identity reassessment
[37,39]. As individuals begin to develop self-doubt or
experience confusion over identity or intense personal
debate, eventually a point is reached whereby the
individual comes to the realisation that their old
identity no longer exists and a new one must be
established [37]. Therefore, when radicalised
individuals socialise and are validated by other 'like-
minded' individuals, their transformation is reinforced
and the new identity is strengthened [37]. Ultimately,
those individuals who become violent, radicalised
inmates not only justify their actions but such actions
are also expected among the greater group of
Hamm [7] interviewed intelligence officials in
Florida and California in December 2007 and found
that Florida prisoners were vulnerable to radicalisation
and terrorist recruitment. One official stated:
"radicalized prisoners are very aware that people
(authorities) are interested in radicalized prisoners.
They are very careful who they talk to in prison." The
official also noted that most inmates are radicalised by
other radical inmates and not by outside influence [7].
Overall, the majority of studies have focused on
demographic variables to look at the vulnerability of
individuals, mainly because they are much easier to
access than other variables [40]. However, many
empirical studies show that psychographic variables,
such as attitudes, emotions, preconceptions, and
motivations, seem to matter most regarding the
success rate [41].
4. Models of Recruitment
Recruitment plays a significant role in any terrorist
organisation. Individuals can use their expertise to
spot, assess, and encourage potential recruits to
follow the same path [11]. There are four different
models of recruitment:
the net
the funnel
the seed crysta
l [40].
The net
pattern occurs when the target population
is equally engaged; for example, all members are
given the same book to read or are invited to a
meeting (see Figure 1a). In this instance, the target
audience is viewed as homogeneous and the group
can be approached with a single undifferentiated pitch
The funnel
pattern occurs when a recruiter takes
an incremental approach (characterised by
milestones) when he or she believes the target or
focal segment population is a prime target (see Figure
1b). This process requires an individual to have the
right motivation and undergo a significant
transformation in identity. Therefore an individual
starts at one end of the process and is transformed
into a dedicated group member at the other end [40].
The infection
pattern occurs when a trusted agent is
inserted into the target population to rally potential
recruits through direct personal appeals (see Figure
1c). Infection is likely to be successful where most
members are not extremists; this allows the infiltrator
to be able to convert selected members who are
dissatisfied [40]. Finally,
the seed
crystal pattern
occurs when the target is very difficult to access and
is very remote:
This may be compared to lowering the
temperature of a glass until the water inside it
cools and then ice crystals form as the seeds of
a complete freeze ([40], p. 79; see Figure 1d).
In terms of al-Qaida, this approach may be the
most successful in populations where open
recruitment is difficult, such as prisons.
The four different models of recruitment as
proposed by Gerwehr and Daley, 2006 ([40], pp. 73
89) are shown in Figure 1.
5. Social Movement Theory and Recruitment
One of the most promising theoretical frameworks
applied to understanding radicalisation is Social
Movement Theory (SMT). Although SMT has been
used in social science for the past few decades, its
application to understanding radicalisation is in its
infancy. Della Porta [42] was one of the first terrorism
researchers to use the SMT concepts in her study of
violent and extremist Italian and German militants.
Della Porta [42] found that militant radicals were
bound together by personal ties and by their shared
activist experiences and participating radicals acted as
a self-reinforcing mechanism to drive radical activists
to become increasingly more radical.
Zald and McCarthy [43] define social movement as:
"A set of opinions and beliefs in a population, which
represents preferences for changing some elements of
the social structure and/or reward distribution of a
society" (p. 2). The idea behind this theory is that
"movements arose from irrational processes of
collective behaviour occurring under strained
environmental conditions (what sociologists would call
Strain Theory), producing a mass sentiment of
discontent. Individuals would 'join' a movement
because they passively succumbed to these
overwhelming social forces" ([44], p. 17). According
to SMT, members recruit others on a rational basis in
order to be effective and efficient. These recruiters
seek to identify individuals who are likely to agree to
participate and who are seen to be potential
individuals who can further their cause [44,45].
Figure 1. The four different models of recruitment as proposed by Gerwehr and Daley ([40], pp. 73–89):
a) The Net; b) The Funnel; c) The Infection; d) The Seed Crystal.
Brady et al. [45] explain the process of recruitment
as one of 'rational prospecting', meaning that
recruiters follow a strategy for seeking out individual
prospects that demonstrate the greatest 'participation
potential', and have conceptualised the process as
having two stages: 1) using information to find
prospects; and 2) getting to 'yes' which is outlined in
Figure 2.
In the first stage, the recruiter seeks information
regarding the target individual (such as past activities
the individual has been involved in). Also, the recruiter
assesses whether or not the individual has
characteristics (such as political interests or concerns
about political politics) that might predispose them to
take part in their extremist activities [45-47]. Overall,
a recruiter wants as much information as possible
regarding the potential recruit, especially involving the
individual’s political engagement [45]. However, this
information is not easily accessible; the amount of
information obtained will depend on the relationship
developed between the recruiter and the recruit.
Figure 2. Process of recruitment.
In the second stage the recruiter needs to get a
positive result (i.e. the individual recruit accepts and
becomes an active member). In order to successfully
achieve this, the recruiter may entice the recruit with
various gratifications or incentives [45]. This is
particularly true when the recruiter has control over
punishments and rewards because the more power
the recruiter appears to have the more likely it is that
the recruit will join the cause [45]. In addition,
having a relationship (preferably a close relationship)
will help leverage the cause, unlike approaching a
complete stranger. Prisoner radicalisation often
operates like street gangs where prison gangs are
generally drawn along racial and ethnic lines.
Prisoners prior to incarceration who are affiliated with
a certain gang may therefore naturally gravitate
towards similar gang organisations in prison where
members have each others’ backs [2,48]. Prison
gangs know that prisons have limited resources and
as a result they flourish within prisons despite the
best efforts of corrections officials—and extremist
gangs are no exception [49].
Hamm [7] worked with the US Correctional
Intelligence Initiative (CII), a program to prevent
potential acts of terrorism by inmates in the US. The
CII accessed 2,088 state and local correctional
facilities in the US and Hamm [7] found that
radicalisation is developed on the prison gang model
and prisoner radicalisation cannot be separated from
the prison gang problem. Gang members were seen
to be crossing racial lines, joining forces to create
larger groups and some crossovers involved
supremacists joining militant Islamic groups [7].
"Broadly defined, prison gangs are an 'organization'
which operates within the prison system as a self
perpetuating criminally oriented entity, consisting of a
select group of inmates who have established an
organized chain of command and are governed by an
established code of conduct" ([50], p. 371). Many
prison gangs use intimidation and violence which is
usually directed at outsiders to control their prison
environment [51].
Another study by Ungerer [48] interviewed 33 men
convicted on charges of terrorism by the Indonesian
courts in 2010. One man interviewed (Sonhadi)
explained that terrorist convicts would band together
and form something akin to a 'shadow government' in
prison: "They often pool their available resources to
ask for better cells, better food and other small
luxuries. They'd also run small businesses in prison,
from selling top-up cards for mobile phones to setting
up food stalls selling rice, cooking oil and sugar" ([48],
p. 12). There is also prestige associated with terrorist
convicts and many convicts regard them with respect
because of their willingness to lay down their lives for
religion [48]. A number of men interviewed also
stated that they have elevated status in society after
serving time [48]. It is not known if this is a broadly
accepted practice across all non-western prisons, but
it was evident in Ungerer's 2011 research on the
radicalisation of inmates within the Indonesian prison
6. Process of Radicalisation
Some researchers reject the notion that radicalisation
can be understood by a sequence of fixed stages (e.g.
Sageman [52]) while others view radicalisation as an
orderly series of stages with terrorism being the final
destination [29]. In 2007, the Intelligence Division of
the New York Police Department (NYPD) published a
study, Radicalization in the West: The home-grown
threat, which outlines a simplified radicalisation
model. In this report it identifies that 'jihadist'
ideology is the key driver of radicalisation and
suggests four stages to explain the process of
radicalisation: pre-radicalisation, self-identification,
indoctrination and jihadisation stages [19,29]. These
four stages are described as a 'funnel' through which
ordinary individuals' religious beliefs become
progressively more radical and this once ordinary
individual becomes a terrorist [29].
The first stage, pre-radicalisation, occurs when
individuals are placed in environments that allow them
to be receptive to extremism [2]. This can be driven
by either intrinsic or extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic
motivation could be the result of a personal
crisis/trauma, experiences of discrimination and/or
alienation [2,53], or individuals may feel frustration
and dissatisfaction with their current religious faith
leading them to change their belief system [11]. On
the other hand, extrinsic motivations could be any
external factor (e.g. economic, ethnic, racial, legal,
political, religious, or social deprivation) that may
negatively affect an individual's attitude and belief
towards those implicated; leading to a change of faith
as the answer to the perception of deprivation they
are experiencing [11].
The second stage, self-identification, occurs when
the individual identifies him/herself with a particular
extremist cause and essentially changes his/her
religious beliefs or behaviours. These individuals begin
to construct a new character based on religion and
support for radicalised ideologies [11]. Also, certain
types of experiences, including the amount of
exposure to Islamic radicalism (e.g. jihadist videos),
are more likely to drive the convert from a conversion
to jihad. Guidance from supervisors and
encouragement to socialise with other 'like-minded'
individuals reinforces their new sense of identity and
commitment [14]. Therefore, overseas travel can have
a significant impact on the acceleration of the
radicalisation process [11]. Overall, the individual’s
needs and wants are increasingly removed and
replaced by those of the collective [14].
The third stage, indoctrination, furthers this
mindset and readiness for action [14]. It occurs once
a convert has accepted the radical ideology but may
be unsure or unfamiliar with how to participate. Part
of this stage is becoming an active participant. This
involves small-group and individual participation that
allows the recruit to know and recognise his/her
potential as a jihadist. What is critical in this stage is
the knowledge, skills, and leadership of senior figures.
This is a highly volatile and emotional stage for
recruits [14]. Confidence increases over time and the
individual's mind becomes saturated with radical
ideologies. The only solution to their problems is to
stand up for what they believe in through violent
action [11].
The final stage,
, is engaging directly in
terrorist activities (which can be violent or non-
violent) and is always done with the intention of
inflicting damage to the enemy: "During this stage,
role identification can be so strong as to completely
erase a sense of individualisation, thereby preventing
the possibility of the individual acting in their own self
interests by leaving the group"
([14]. p. 40). It is
important to note that these stages are not
chronological and individuals can skip stages, reaching
more violent actions quicker [53]. It also means that
individuals may stop the process and may not be fully
radicalised; conversely, even if they are fully
radicalised they will not necessarily carry out a
terrorist attack [29]: "Commitment is constantly
calibrated and re-recalibrated. Some drop out along
the way. A component of our counter-recruiting
strategy must be to always offer a safe way back from
the edge" ([23], p. 4).
Silber and Bhatt's [29] model represents
radicalisation as key transition points along a time
course beginning with ordinary-life individuals and
moving down a path where these individuals have
direct involvement in terrorist activities [13]. However,
this model lacks a full understanding of psychological,
organisational, and social processes that lead people
into radicalisation and their continuation towards
committing acts of terrorism [13].
7. Concluding Remarks
Radicalisation is a modern social phenomenon and
has displayed a substantial presence and complexity
as an emergent concept among disciplines [14]. Yet
there are still major problems surrounding the concept
of radicalisation, for instance defining the concept of
radicalisation and terrorism, collecting empirical data,
and building integrative theory [54].
There are many conclusions to be drawn from this
literature review. First, in order for experts and
scholars to gain a better understanding of the concept
of radicalisation a generic definition needs to be
established. From the literature provided above, it
seems that within the definition of radicalisation there
needs to be some reference to 'extreme movement
activity', that radicalisation is a 'process' over time,
and that 'not all radicals' or radical thoughts lead to
terrorist actions. Achieving clarity in defining the
concept of radicalisation and using appropriate
guidance from existing theories (such as SMT) will
help provide a platform for moving forward.
Second, it is important to acknowledge that each
one of us can potentially have opinions that others
would consider radical. This does not mean that
individuals, with criminals being no exception, with
radical thoughts are setting themselves up for
committing acts of terrorism. In reality, radicals and
radical ideas can play a positive role in communities.
For example many historical figures were considered
radical, such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela
and Gandhi. Even some violent radicals have been
seen to be acting in the name of the cause and that
their actions were just, such as the nineteenth century
American abolitionist, John Brown, who used violent
acts to fight slavery [55,56].
Third, radicals and individuals who undergo the
radicalisation process are different from ordinary
criminals. Hoffman [57] points out that both terrorists
and criminals employ violence to attain specific goals;
however, terrorists are motivated by ideological,
religious, or political gain, whereas criminals are
largely driven by material gain. Hoffman [57] also
suggests that terrorists believe they are fighting for a
cause. Finally, terrorists seek to impact and influence
a wider audience, while criminals do not generally
seek to disseminate terror to the general public [58].
Individuals who contemplate committing terrorist acts
(such as killing citizens) do so because they believe
that these actions are feasible and just [37]. However,
not all radicalisation is negative nor does it lead to
violence. For example, radical Islamic Puritanism
involves seeking greater religious purity (e.g. the
individual returns to a 'pure Islam') and separating
themselves from the influences of Western society
[18]. However, when making a distinctive difference
between individuals who accept radical ideas and
individuals who actively participate in violent
behaviour, there can be some blurring between
individuals since not all individuals who radicalise end
up participating in violent behaviour [37].
Fourth, a prisoner's vulnerability to radicalisation
does not end after release from prison. Many
individuals who leave prison lack basic support (e.g.
financial, emotional, or familial support) and where
support does exit, it is often provided by community
and religious groups. This gives extremist groups the
opportunity to disguise the organisation as a
legitimate support group where ties with former
prisoners can be maintained. One extremist group, al-
Haramain, maintained a database containing
information (including names, release dates and the
addresses to which the individuals would be released)
on over 15,000 prisoners who were classified as
vulnerable to the group’s message [58,59].
Fifth, it is important to acknowledge the ongoing
debate that surrounds two questions: 1) Where is the
most appropriate place to contain terrorists? and 2)
What is the most effective way of doing so? [12].
Researchers have suggested two possible strategies
for incarcerating prisoners: isolation or concentration.
The isolation method separates terrorists from each
other [5]. Neumann [5] indicated that this is the most
effective way to deter terrorists from ideologies
because their communication is hindered and
interaction with other terrorists has stopped. It also
makes it very difficult for terrorists to organise future
attacks because of the high level of security. The
second method is concentration, where all terrorists
are imprisoned in the one facility and specialised
resources (e.g. staff in the field of linguistics or de-
radicalisation training teams) are employed [12]. From
a resource perspective concentration is beneficial as
high security resources are only needed in a few
locations [12]. However, it can have problematic
consequences. For example, many jihad extremist
groups are made up of small, loosely affiliated cells
and teams. It is therefore possible that if such
individuals are concentrated their loose networks
could consolidate into a more cohesive and organised
form [12]. Overall, academics in the field of terrorism
(see [2,5,7,10]) agree that we may be facilitating
radicalism by integrating converted Islamic extremists
with criminals.
Finally, even though radicalisation does not always
result in violence, it is important to establish effective
methods to minimise 'the minority' of radicals who
have the potential to become violence. Some may
argue that only a small percentage of radicals actually
partake in extreme violence. However, it is important
to remember that the goal is to minimise violence,
regardless of how big or small the potential threat
may appear to be.
Scholars have suggested that the root cause of
prison radicalisation is related to overcrowding of
maximum security prisons, with few rehabilitative
programmes, and a shortage of chaplains to provide
religious guidance [7]. These root causes should be
explored in conjunction with topics such as inmate
subculture, extremist interpretations of religious
doctrines and how they lead to hatred and violence,
and the vulnerability of inmates to radicalism. Future
studies should also recognise and take into
consideration that radicalisation is a process that
occurs over time and that these stages are not
sequential and the speed in which an individual goes
through these stages can vary significantly depending
on individual circumstances. Ultimately, this
phenomenon needs to be explored more fully so we
can enhance our understanding and provide effective
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