Religion in Society

Atheism Rare Among Prison Population

| by John W Loftus
I saw two articles on the relative proportion of atheists in prisons versus religious groups, and I thought it worth sharing.

First, a compilation of present-day statistics:

atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%).

Next, a more thorough review from multiple studies. Quote:

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It's suprising how many people say to me, "You're an Atheist? You must have no conscience about commiting crime then." Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if we examine the population of our prisons, we see a very different picture:

In "The New Criminology", Max D. Schlapp and Edward E. Smith say that two generations of statisticians found that the ratio of convicts without religious training is about 1/10 of 1%. W. T. Root, professor of psychology at the Univ. of Pittsburgh, examined 1,916 prisoners and said "Indifference to religion, due to thought, strengthens character," adding that Unitarians, Agnostics, Atheists and Free-Thinkers are absent from penitentiariers or nearly so.

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During 10 years in Sing-Sing, those executed for murder were 65% Catholics, 26% Protestants, 6% Hebrew, 2% Pagan, and less than 1/3 of 1% non-religious. Steiner and Swancara surveyed Canadian prisons and found 1,294 Catholics, 435 Anglicans, 241 Methodists, 135 Baptists, and 1 Unitarian.

Dr. Christian, Superintendant of the NY State Reformatories, checked 22,000 prison inmates and found only 4 college graduates. In "Who's Who" 91% were college graduates, and he commented that "intelligence and knowledge produce right living" and that "crime is the offspring of superstition and ignorance."

Surveyed Massachusetts reformatories found every inmate religious, carefully herded by chaplins.

In Joliet, there were 2,888 Catholics, 1,020 Baptists, 617 Methodists and 0 non-religious.

Michigan had 82,000 Baptists and 83,000 Jews in their state population. But in the prisons, there were 22 times as many Baptists as Jews, and 18 times as many Methodists as Jews. In Sing-Sing, there were 1,553 total inmates with 855 of them Catholics (over half), 518 Protestants, 177 Jews and 8 non-religious. There's a very interesting qualified statistic.

Steiner first surveyed 27 states, and found 19,400 Christians, 5,000 with no preference, and only 3 Agnostics (one each in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Illinois). A later, more complete survey found 60,605 Christians, 5,000 Jews, 131 Pagans, 4,000 no preference, and only 3 Agnostics.

In one 29-state survey, Steiner found 15 unbelievers, Spirtualists, Theosophists, Deists, Pantheists and 1 Agnostic among nearly 83,000 inmates. Calling all 15 "anti-christians" made it one half person to each state. Elmira reformatory overshadowed all, with nearly 31,000 inmates, including 15,694 Catholics (half), and 10,968 Protestants, 4,000 Jews, 325 refusing to answer, and 0 unbelievers.

In the East, over 64% of inmates are Catholics. In the national prison population they average 50%. A national census found Catholics 15%. They count from the diaper up. Hardly 12% are old enough to commit a crime. Half of these are women. That leaves an adult Catholic population of 6% supplying 50% of the prison population.

Liverpool, England produces three percent as many young criminals as Birmingham, a larger city, 28% coming from Catholic schools. What does this tell you about parochial school systems or claims that religion is the guardian of morals?

Fifty-two percent of people belong to no church, yet live clean lives and supply less than 1% of the total criminal population. So much for religious indoctrination.

Interesting stuff. I would note a careful disparity must be made between correlation and causation. Also, the religious upbringing must be differentiated between the religious preference of the prisoner during the incarceration, as many get "jailhouse religion" at the expense of taxpayer dollar-funded programs in prisons and jails.