Monday, January 22, 2007

Crime and Religion   posted by DavidB @ 1/22/2007 05:10:00 AM

Having seen Razib's post below, I thought it would be interesting to look at the British Prison Statistics, which include a breakdown of the religious affiliation of people in prison. The bottom line is that atheists do seem to be a relatively wicked lot, but the religious can hardly claim to be above temptation. Some religious groups in particular seem to be well above average in criminality.

For male prisoners (the great majority), the percentage of prisoners in the main religious groups (in 2002, England and Wales) is as follows:

Roman Catholic.......17
Free Church...........2
Other Christian.......3
(total Christian.....58)
Other religions.......3
No religion..........32

'Other religions' include Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jews, each with less than 1% of the prison population, though Hindus and Buddhists come close to 1%.

Of course, these figures are meaningless without some comparative figures for proportions in the general population. The 2001 Census for England and Wales for the first time included a question on religious affiliation. The results are broken down by sex and broad age group (Census Table S107) [Added: correction, it should be Table S103]. For comparison with prisoners, it is probably most appropriate to take the group of males aged 25-49. There is a complication that about 7% of respondents declined to answer the question. If we exclude these from the total, the percentages of the main religious groups among those who did reply to the question were as follows:

No religion...23

No other group had more than 1 % of the population

It therefore does seem that those claiming 'no religion' are statistically somewhat over-represented among the British prison population, compared to those in the general population, while Christians and Hindus are under-represented. On the other hand, Muslims are heavily over-represented. [Added: it has been pointed out that some of these will have converted to Islam while in prison. See the comments board.] Buddhists, with less than 0.5% of the general population, but nearly 1% of the prison population, are also over-represented. This may be partly because Buddhists tend to be serving long sentences, which puzzled me until it occurred to me that they would include Chinese and South East Asian drug smugglers and Triad gangsters. I suspect that among Christians, Roman Catholics, with 17% of the prison population, are also somewhat over-represented. The general population Census does not break 'Christians' down into denominations, but it is usually reckoned that between 10% and 15% of the population are Catholics.

I wouldn't take any of this very seriously as evidence for the effect of religion on criminality (or vice versa), as so many other factors would be involved.

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