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Activism and Radicalism in Prison: Measurement and Correlates in a Large Sample of Inmates in Texas

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 36 Issue: 5 Dated: 2019 Pages: 787-815
Date Published
29 pages

This study drew on interviews conducted with 802 male prison inmates in Texas the week before their release to the community, during which the inmates were administered the Activism and Radicalism Intention Scale, one of the few validated scales in the extremism literature.


There is considerable speculation that prison plays a role in radicalization. Many individuals involved in acts of political extremism have spent time in prison, adding credibility to such claims. Despite these assertions, however, there is little empirical evidence regarding the prison-radicalization link, because access to prisons is challenging and there are few valid scales of extremism. Studies that do examine a potential link have small sample sizes or select on extremist case studies. In the current study, a series of structural equation models revealed several important findings. First, the study found that the psychometric properties of the modified two-factor model of activism and radicalism intentions were largely acceptable among prison inmates, including subgroupings of Latino, White, Black, and gang and non-gang-involved inmates. Second, the findings revealed that there was more activism than radicalism intentions among prison inmates, although levels of both were comparable to non-institutional populations. Activism and radicalism intentions were positively related, although this correlation was weaker than in prior studies. Activism should not be substituted for radicalism. Third, the exploratory analysis of concurrent validity identified few multivariate correlates. Group identificationnamely, racial and religious groupswas related to both scales, but in opposite directions. Age was negatively related radicalism, while street-to-prison gang importation was positively related to radicalism intention. The implications of these findings for research, policy, and practice on activism, radicalization, and prison are discussed. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019