Radicalization and Intelligence Gathering In Correctional Institutions- Part 2

I started researching the materials about incarcerated terrorists and/or their impact on the operations of correctional facilities since shortly after 9/11. I conducted my first workshop about Terrorists and Corrections at an American Correctional Conference in California (August 2002). Several years have passed and prisons all over the world are now incarcerating terrorists. We also now know that some of these incarcerated terrorists are recruiters for their various causes. They work to radicalize other inmates, most of whom are disenfranchised and who in previous times, would have been recruited to join a gang.

I must apologize for being so tardy in writing Part Two of this article. As I was writing this article, I came across a great deal of new material from around the world, which sent me off on a lengthy research journey. It is my hope that within the year I will be publishing a more comprehensive document on Prisons-Radicalization-Intelligence Gathering.

There appear to be a few common themes that have manifested themselves over the years. Some of these themes dovetail what many experienced correctional staff will recognize as gang recruiting activities. I would say the difference with radicalizing inmates for religious purposes and gang membership is that each has a different outcomes.

Correctional “Line Staff” who are receiving specialized training in “Intelligence Gathering” can readily observe many of these common themes.

The recent killings of the French staff employees of Charlie Hebdo Magazine and the murder of innocent people in a French Kosher market by individuals who were purported to be radicalize while in jail has caused governments and the criminal justice communities to closely look at what role (s) correctional facilities are playing in the furthering of “Radical Islam”. This new information, e.g. French prisons, a California State Prison, further reinforces the belief that terrorists are using prisons and jails to recruit and radicalize new followers.

The real questions are how prevalent is it, how successful is it, will those radicalized offenders continue to follow their “Free-World “ leaders, and to what extent? Are our correctional facilities becoming the “Recruiting Stations” for “Radicalized Lone Wolves”?

By being more attentive to what is going on throughout their individual correctional facilities, correctional personnel, especially “Line Staff”, can be instrumental in identifying those doing the radicalizing and those being radicalized.

Seasoned correctional personnel can develop a sixth sense about the “feel” of certain correctional environments. They know when something is not right or normal. Gathering intelligence is just refining those learned traits and reporting and documenting observations, conversations, associations, changes in offenders’ actions and behaviors, etc.

Most correctional facilities have well established “Strategic Threat Groups /Gang Units” who should be the collection point for all “Intelligence Regarding Radicalization” of inmates. My rationale for recommending these “Units” is because they already are experienced in gathering, assessing and disseminating information to internal and external departments.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a great many similarities in the early stages of joining a gang and being radicalized.

Some examples of “Similarities” between gang recruitment and radicalization:

  • The recruits begin to hang around with the group that they are aligning with at that time.
  • The recruits either grow their hair / beard or they cut their hair and have their beards, again depending on the group that they are aligning with at that time.
  • They distance themselves from the correctional staff, unless instructed to become more familiar with “certain” staff personnel. These are usually staff, who the group believes, can assist them in getting, jobs, better living conditions, favors, etc.
  • The recruits for gangs may start to use the vernacular, get tattoos, wearing of certain clothing in certain ways of the group that they are aligning themselves with at that time.

Some examples for “Intelligence Gathering”:

  • When an offender begins to associate with those offenders who have been identified as already radicalized and/or gang members. Correctional personnel making this observation should leave reports stating
    1. The name (s) of the offender (s) being observed
    2. The name (s) of the radicalized offenders
    3. The time (s) that they were seen together
    4. State when these offenders started meeting / hanging around together, or when it was first observed by correctional staff
    5. Identify every location where they were seen together,
      e.g. eating together, walking together in the yard, changing seat in the school areas so that they could sit closer to each other.
  • Research has demonstrated that those offender-recruiters who would radicalize other offenders use a series of methods and techniques.
    1. The recruiters look for those offenders who are the most vulnerable. Some of the experts use the word “disenfranchised”. From my years of experience, I would say that the recruiters look for those who are afraid, looking for protection, looking to belong to “something” , and who are vulnerable to kindness.
    2. The steps / phases are similar to these:
      1. Approach in an open setting (Yard, Dayroom, Gym, School)
      2. Engage in light conversation
      3. Discuss the benefits of the group / gang (Protection, belonging to something that is bigger than self, believing in a higher spiritual being, becoming someone, to mention a few. Of course these examples will manifest themselves differently, depending on whether the recruits are joining a gang, subversive group, or if they are being radicalized as part of joining a terrorist group.
      4. One the recruits demonstrates an interest as the recruiter becomes more and more engaging. The conversation will become more focused on religion and the recruit’s relationship with God, the cause, the religion, etc. It should be noted that many of the recruiters are “NOT” trained in the study of Islam, and in many cases what they are preaching/ teaching is their interpretation of the Quran.
      5. In the case of the recruit being radicalized, the recruiter will start to share literature with the recruit; again, the literature may not be based on official teachings contained in the Quran.
      6. Once the recruiter believes that he/she has the recruit’s confidence and trust, he/she will make the move to fully involve the recruit in the movement.
      7. From the time that the recruit is fully engaged, the recruiter will continue to bring the recruit further and further into the fold.

For the most part, alert “Line Staff” could see this recruiting process going on. They should be leaving reports detailing everything that they are witnessing.

I buy into the belief that it is easier to stop the radicalization of people than it is to de-radicalize them.


In my forty plus years in the criminal justice community, I have seen several new challenges come into the field. Initially, some of these challenges caused the field to make some adjustments, some minor some major. It appears that terrorism is here with all of its manifestations: “Lone Wolves”, Returning Syria Fighters, and “Radicalization”, both inside our prisons and on the streets of America.

Law enforcement will have to adopt military style tactics. Correctional facilities will have to adjust their “Intelligence Gathering” techniques and their offender management strategies for dealing with terrorists and those who are identified as recruiters.

Years ago I started using the term “Terrorist-Inmates”. The reason I selected this term and order of the descriptors was because first and foremost these individual offenders are “Terrorists” and with the title comes an entirely different set of correctional management issues. Secondly, they are inmates because of the crimes that they committed.

I have no doubt that the criminal justice community will make the necessary adaptation and adjustment to deal with this new world and dangerous world. September 11, 2001, Arab Spring, etc. has disruptive world events and the “Old Order”. As Abraham Lincoln wrote in his message to Congress, December 1, 1862.
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Suggested readings

Guidelines for the Development of a Security Program – Eugene E. Atherton and Richard L. Phillips – American Correctional Association – Chapter 30 Terrorism and Correctional Security Programs – Wm. Sturgeon

Managing Special Populations In Jail And Prisons Volume II. 2010 Stan Stojkovic – Civic Research Institute – Chapter 17 Terrorist Inmates – The New Challenge for Correctional Administrators – Wm. Sturgeon

Author’s note I am currently in throws of writing a comprehensive document detailing “Radicalization” in correctional facilities.