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Terrorist Recruitment in American Correctional Institutions: An Exploratory Study of Non-Traditional Faith Groups Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2007
128 pages
This research collected baseline information on nontraditional religions in U.S. correctional institutions, identified the personal and social motivations for prisoners' conversions to these faith groups, and assessed the risk for terrorist recruitment among these prisoners.
The study's main conclusion is that the danger to U.S. security from inmate adherents to nontraditional religions is not the number of adherents to Islam or to White supremacy religions, but rather the potential for small groups of radical believers to instigate terrorist acts upon their release from custody. Among recommendations for addressing this issue is the hiring of chaplains in overcrowded maximum-security prisons, so as to provide authoritative teachers who will ensure moderation and tolerance. Findings show that prisoners have been converted to the following nontraditional religious groups: Islam (traditional Islam, Nation of Islam, Moorish Science Temple, and Prison Islam); Hinduism; Buddhism; Native-American religions; Black Hebrew Israelism; Wicca; and White supremacy religions (Odin/ Asatru and Christian Identity). Although some conversions to these religions are motivated by personal crises and the need for protection, the primary motivation for conversions is spiritual searching. Although most of the prisoner conversions to these nontraditional religions exert a positive influence on inmate attitudes and behaviors, some carry the potential for ideologically inspired criminal attitudes and behaviors. This risk is especially high in overcrowded maximum-security prisons where there are few rehabilitation programs, a shortage of chaplains, and gang influences. The most significant threat stems from fringe elements of Prison Islam. Former gang rivals are joining forces under Islamic banners. Neo-Nazis are becoming Sunni Muslims. There is growing conflict within inmate Islam as various factions of this faith compete for followers. Data were obtained from interviews with 15 prison chaplains, 9 gang intelligence officials, and 30 inmates incarcerated for violent crimes in Florida and California. 106 references

Date Published: December 1, 2007