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Prison Islam in the Age of Sacred Terror

Posted: 25 Aug 2009  

Mark S. Hamm

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: September 2009


Research indicates that Islam is the fastest growing religion among prisoners in Western nations. In the United States, roughly 240,000 inmates have converted to the faith since the 9/11 attacks. According to federal law enforcement, Saudi-backed Wahhabi clerics have targeted these prisoners for terrorist recruitment. The present research examines this claim from several different perspectives. First, it reviews the literature on prisoner conversions to Islam and concludes that there are opposing viewpoints on the matter. One side of the debate takes an alarmist stance, arguing that prisons have become incubators for Islamic terrorism; the other side asserts that Islam plays a vital role in prisoner rehabilitation. Second, results of a two-year study of prisoner radicalization and terrorist recruitment in US prisons are reported. The motives for prisoner conversions to Islam are discussed along with the effects of conversion on inmate behaviour; the role played by gangs and charismatic leaders in radicalizing prisoners; and the social processes by which inmates move from radicalization to operational terrorism. Third, two case studies are presented. One involves a terrorist plot waged by a gang of Sunni prisoners at California's New Folsom Prison; the other looks at the inmate-led Islamic Studies Program at Old Folsom Prison, which has adopted a de-radicalization agenda. It is argued that inmate self-help programmes may do more than the state to prevent radicalization and terrorist recruitment behind bars.

Keywords: prisoner radicalization, prisoner de-radicalization, terrorism, Islam in prison, terrorist subcultures, Muqqaddimah

Suggested Citation

Hamm, Mark S., Prison Islam in the Age of Sacred Terror (September 2009). The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 49, Issue 5, pp. 667-685, 2009. Available at SSRN: or

Mark S. Hamm (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

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