Spectacular or Specious?

A Publication of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Spectacular or Specious? A Critical Review of the Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat

In the post-9/11 era, debates about the role American prisons play in contributing to “homegrown” or domestic terrorism grow with each passing year. However, much of the debate has been premised on alarmist rationales, political distortions, and plainly faulty analyses. The book, The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat by criminologist Mark Hamm is an attempt to assess the situation in the United States. As this book represents the first that tackles the question of prisoner radicalization, it is important on that count alone, for it has great potential to influence scholarship, law, and policy. This review critiques the book’s main thesis, which posits that prison conditions are the main cause of prisoner radicalization. Furthermore, it critiques the methods and samples used to substantiate this and other claims. Specifically, the critique shows how lack of proper method and rigorous analysis serves to propagate unfounded beliefs, including that prisons are breeding grounds for jihadist recruitment and for foreign networks like al-Qaeda. Hence, as a primary study of the issue, the book frustrates a better understanding of prisoner radicalization and its implications for institutional and national security. A proper review of the book’s successes and failures helps clarify key concepts and the scope of the problem, and hopefully, lead to better policies and more justice in the correctional context.

SpearIt is an ISPU Fellow and an Associate Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.

Originally published in the Thurgood Marshall Law Review [Vol. 39:225, 2014]

SpearIt, Spectacular or Specious? A Critical Review of the Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat (August 27, 2014). 39 T. Marshall L. Rev. 225 (2014).

Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2488262