Religious Extremism in US Prisons (Infographic)

A survey U.S. prison chaplains shows the prevalence of extremists of various faiths.
A survey U.S. prison chaplains shows the prevalence of extremists of various faiths. (Image credit: Ross Toro, LiveScience Contributor)

Turns out, religion is even bustling behind bars, according to a survey of prison chaplains in all 50 U.S. states by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Religious activities include efforts by inmates to proselytize or convert other inmates to religious switching by prisoners, the survey found.

More than seven-in-ten state prison chaplains surveyed said efforts by inmates to convert others are very or somewhat common. About three-quarters of them reported that a lot or some religious switching occurs among inmates, noting growth in the numbers of Muslims and Protestant Christians in particular as a result of this switching.

In addition, chaplains said religious counseling and other religion-based activities play an important role in rehabilitating prisoners. More than seven-in-ten chaplains (73 percent) said they consider access to high-quality religion-related programs in prison to be "absolutely critical" for successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society, while an additional 23 percent said such programs are very important, though not critical. About six-in-ten chaplains (62 percent) indicated that religion-related programs for rehabilitation and re-entry (such as faith-based job training or mentoring programs) are available in the prisons where they work.

The Pew researchers say their survey offers a rare window into the religious lives of inmates, for which little information is publicly available. Approximately 1.6 million inmates currently reside in the U.S. prison system, with the vast majority (87 percent) under the jurisdiction of state correctional authorities. 

The survey was conducted between Sept. 21 and Dec. 23, 2011, with responses from 730 professional chaplains and religious services coordinators working in state prisons (both titles are used in state prisons).

Live Science Staff
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