Forensic Psychiatry
Religion Helps Reduce Negative Prison Behaviors
Dec 2, 2005 - 7:25:38 PM

A new study in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion finds that the practice of religion in prison reduces the likelihood of arguments and physical fights among inmates. It is the first study of religion and prison behavior using a random sample survey of inmates at a large prison facility.

Researchers, led by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) criminologist Kent Kerley, Ph.D., surveyed 386 inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Inmates were asked about family and criminal histories, religious beliefs, participation in prison ministries and the frequency of arguments and physical fighting among themselves.

The study found that religious beliefs and participation in religious services or faith-based programs significantly reduced inmates’ chances for getting into arguments with other inmates. Inmates who believed in a higher power were 74 percent less likely to engage in arguments than non-believers. Inmates who attended weekly religious services and faith-based programs were half as likely to engage in arguments than other inmates.

The researchers found no direct link between religious beliefs and physical fighting. Religious inmates, however, generally argued less, and therefore, were less likely to get into physical fights.

“We don’t suggest that prisons devote more funds to chaplains and faith-based programs at the expense of programs that have been found to be effective such as GED and college programs and job training programs,” said Kerley. “But the results suggest that inmates should be given the options. Faith-based programs are usually inexpensive and are conducted by staff chaplains and local volunteers.”

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