Activism and Radicalism in Prison: Measurement and Correlates in a Large Sample of Inmates in Texas

Scott Decker, David C. Pyrooz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


There is considerable speculation that prison plays a role in radicalization. Many individuals involved in acts of political extremism have spent time in prison, adding credibility to such claims. Despite these assertions, there is little empirical evidence regarding the prison-radicalization link because access to prisons is challenging and there are few valid scales of extremism. Studies that do examine a potential link have small sample sizes or select on extremist case studies. The current study draws on interviews conducted with 802 male prison inmates in Texas the week before their release to the community. Inmates were administered the Activism and Radicalism Intention Scale, one of the few validated scales in the extremism literature. A series of structural equation models revealed several important findings. First, we found that the psychometric properties of the modified two factor model of activism and radicalism intentions were largely acceptable among prison inmates, including subgroupings of Latino, white, black, and gang and non-gang-involved inmates. Second, our findings revealed that there was more activism than radicalism intentions among prison inmates, although levels of both were comparable to non-institutional populations. Activism and radicalism intentions were positively related, although this correlation was weaker than in prior studies. Activism should not be substituted for radicalism. Third, our exploratory analysis of concurrent validity identified few multivariate correlates. Group identification—namely, racial and religious groups—was related to both scales, but in opposite directions. Age was negatively, while street-to-prison gang importation was positively, related to radicalism intention. We outline the implications of these findings for research, policy, and practice on activism, radicalization, and prison.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)787-815
Number of pages29
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 29 2019


  • LoneStar Project
  • Texas
  • activism
  • prison
  • radicalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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