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Visiting professor addresses prison radicalization, terrorism

By Crystal Lee
On April 29, 2011

  • Mark Hamm, professor of criminology at Indiana State University, spoke to students and faculty Thursday. Photo courtesy of Indiana State University

Mark Hamm, Professor of Criminology at Indiana State University, admits that his academic interest has narrowed significantly over the years.

"I'm interested in people who were not terrorists when they went to prison, but were terrorists when they got out of prison," he said.

Students and faculty engaged in discussion in the Julian auditorium yesterday afternoon, facilitated by the Prindle Institute for Ethics, following a lecture by Hamm entitled "Prisoner Radicalization."

Cas Mudde, associate professor of Political Science at DePauw, helped coordinate Hamm's visit and was eager for him to speak.

"He is one of the few people who actually does research on things on the edge by talking to people," he said. "He offers insight that most students at DePauw wouldn't actually know about."

Hamm said the focus of his lecture would be on radicalization within prisons in U.S. and Britain. The US Department of Justice defines radicalization as the process by which prisoners adopt extreme views, including beliefs that violent measures must be taken for political or religious purposes.

Hamm presented research on the topic based on a study he completed between 2005-2007. While he researched 30 prisons, he chose to focus on research done at Folsom Prison, a maximum-security prison located 30 miles from Sacramento, Calif.

Today, inmates are triple bunked by race. Though the institution was has a capacity of about 1,800, there were more than 4,400 in the facility at the time Hamm conducted his study.

"Maximum security is more likely to produce radicalized prisoners," said Hamm. "They're basically living in a media stone age. Overcrowding is at the basis of everything."

Hamm also noted that in overcrowded maximum-security prisons' yards are more politically charged. Increased violence and gang activity are also attributed to severe overcrowding.

"The conditions of incarceration matter," said Hamm. "I didn't necessarily find radicalization to be a problem in well-managed, under-crowded, well-staffed institutions."

Understaffed institutions are not able to offer specialized support for every inmate.

"Religion is sort of the last outpost," Hamm said. "There's no more work, there's no more rehabilitation, there's no more treatment. Often times they are seductive, millenarian, apocalyptic, end of the world religious orientations."

Hamm concluded the lecture by outlining five steps he deems necessary for de-radicalization: acknowledge the problem where it exists, close Guantanamo, improve information management on religion, reduce overcrowding, and support self-help programs by inmates in prison for life.

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