Is ".2% Prison population" stat more than hearsay?

scottmax
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Is ".2% Prison population" stat more than hearsay?

The stat we all keep hearing is that the percentage of atheists in the prison population is less than 1%. That is a pretty appealing statistic if true. I was about to use it in an email debate with a Christian friend but I'm having a bit of trouble backing it up. The closest I have come is this post:

http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm

This is a report that Rod Swift says he got from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1997. Rod may be a perfectly honest, reliable source but what I am looking for is an official government document that contains this information. Lacking that, it would be nice to at least have numbers printed in a non-atheist publication. I haven't yet found either. If anyone has them, please post them. I searched www.bop.gov and "atheist" returned no results.

The closest I have come is this document from the UK on their prison population in England and Wales:

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs/hosb1501.pdf

These numbers look much less nice for our argument. It shows non-religious being the fastest growing group in the population and making up 31.5%. That may be about equal to the number of non-religious people in the general population over there but I don't have that statistic handy. The bulk of that growth is amongst young offenders which makes sense and the non-religious prisoners have the shortest average sentences.

Page 16 is interesting. It shows a breakdown of that 31.5% as .1% agnostic, .2% atheist and the remainder simply not religious. So it is possible that we who are declared atheists tend to be more morally aware than those who just don't give a damn about whether or not gods exist.

Anyway, if we can't find a reliable source for this claim, we'd better stop making it. I would love to be able to back the claim up but until we can, we risk being called hypocrites for using hearsay to support our case while chastising Christians for believing an entire philosophy based on hearsay. So can anyone find a decent source?


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 Here's a good thread at

 Here's a good thread at iidb (even though it's old) that includes a letter from Denise Golumbaski, Research Analyst, Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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Yep. That's the purported

Yep. That's the purported message from Denise Golumbaski to Rod Swift. It seems to be getting quoted over and over but we have to just accept it as valid without any real evidence.


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Hmmm, I've kind of wondered

Hmmm, I've kind of wondered about that. In fact, the one time I used this information, I wrote it with a qualifier..."such and such said."

I have a hypothesis: One reason you'll find more Christians in prison is that it looks good to the parole board. Smiling My mom will side with anyone who says, "I'm a Christian" and I mean anyone: 1) a Crip with a rap sheet a mile long, 2) George W. Bush and 3) the mechanic who probably fucked up my car. I'm just guessing he became a Christian because of how she's fawned all over him these past couple of years.

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A 31% rate for England is

A 31% rate for England is still pretty low since the non-religious population is much higher.  Add the fact that England has a much lower crime rate than the U.S.  If the arguement is that the U.S. is a Christian nation populated laregly by Christians who have the moral authority then we should expect a lower crime rate and a prison population unpopulated by Christians.  Well, the statistics speak for themselves.

If we compare those results with other studies on the religious population we'll see that those who hold fundamentalist views share authortarian sentiments and it's those who are represented more in the prison population.  We'll see an absence of Mennonites and Quakers and others who don't use religion to justify bad behavior.

Perhaps you can do a FOIA request for the official documents. 


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Iruka Naminori

Iruka Naminori wrote:

Hmmm, I've kind of wondered about that. In fact, the one time I used this information, I wrote it with a qualifier..."such and such said."

I have a hypothesis: One reason you'll find more Christians in prison is that it looks good to the parole board. Smiling My mom will side with anyone who says, "I'm a Christian" and I mean anyone: 1) a Crip with a rap sheet a mile long, 2) George W. Bush and 3) the mechanic who probably fucked up my car. I'm just guessing he became a Christian because of how she's fawned all over him these past couple of years.

 Dang, beaten to it thanks to the DDOS attacks.  That's pretty much along the same lines I was going to go with.

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Ask an atheist who has been

Ask an atheist who has been to prison! Ask me.  Recently I did 10 months in the county jail (not state prison, but I've been there too), and I was the only atheist out of the three hundred, or so, inmates I encountered. In my experiences, Christians can be sadistic, cruel, psychopathical bigots, and fowl individuals. They will threaten your life one minute and be praising Jesus the next minute. I did meet a few New Age types (Ramtha, JZ Knight), and they were civilized. However, the same cannot be said about the xian population.


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I can certainly believe that

I can certainly believe that the new agers would tend to be more decent since the new age philosophies are far less divisive. But I'm still hoping to find a government document we could point at. It would be pretty embarrassing if Sapient and gang mentioned the .2% stat while on the phone with a Theist and the Theist called them on it. I can't find anything except that one 2nd hand reference. Your testimony would be valuable if we could get a lot of similar reports so maybe we have at least a start toward independent confirmation of some kind, but I don't know if most Theists would take your word for it.


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Excellent question. I'd

Excellent question. I'd like to know whether it's accurate or not as well. I'd first read the stat on a YouTube video meant to refute claims of amorality among atheists.

I haven't had a chance to look at these yet, but here are the links he provided when I asked about his sources:

http://www.godwouldbeanatheist.com/cols2005/051113.htm

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_prac2.htm

http://www.adherents.com/misc/adh_prison.html

I think the low crime rates of more secular nations at least speak for the idea that religion isn't a requirement for civilized behavior, and still others reveal it as a hinderance.

 


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Those are good links. The

Those are good links. The 2nd link had some very promising information about the rapid fall in Christian affilliation in the US in the past decade.

However, the first 2 links don't address the prison stat and the 3rd is essentially a refutation. I don't agree with many of the conclusions in that 3rd link but they do make a pretty good case for the statistics not helping our argument.

At this point, I think we should probably stop using the US prison statistic. Pointing to relative incarceration levels in the US compared to more secular nations is probably the better way to go.


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scottmax wrote: At this

scottmax wrote:

At this point, I think we should probably stop using the US prison statistic. Pointing to relative incarceration levels in the US compared to more secular nations is probably the better way to go.

If a first-hand source can't be found, I'm in complete agreement.


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Hey guys. This is my first

Hey guys. This is my first post here, but some of you might remember me from the IG Forums.

I think Iruka Naminori nailed it; the statistics may or may not be legitimate, but even if they are, there are significant confounders to consider, and I would avoid pulling that statistic out.

I do suspect that there are fewer atheists in the joint than in the general population, but that's because of different statistics. The prevalences of theism and incarceration tend to both be negatively correlated with educational attainment.

I have used crime rates in Sweden, Japan, Switzerland (in spite of higher per capita gun ownership - double whammy!), and so on to show that nontheism and crime are at the very least not directly related.

Anyway, that's my three yen worth. Wink


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The Golumbaski Stats, and the UK Home Office Stats...

 Hey all... I'm the *real* Rod Swift from 1997 Smiling

You might want to read that UK Home Office Report url: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs/hosb1501.pdf which actually states (in the narrative of the PDF, search for 'atheist') that:

 

 

<QUOTE>17. The largest group of prisoners from religions other than Christianity was Muslim, forming about 7% of the total. Other religious groups, such as Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Sikhs, each formed less than 1% of the population. Inmates with No religion formed an important minority at around 30% of the total population. Only 1% of these were Agnostics and Atheists. The remainder had no stated religious affiliation.</QUOTE>

 

So, yes, there is solid figures that back up the concept that self-identifying atheists are under-represented in prison populations compared with their prevalence in numbers in society.

 

 


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2010 U.S. federal atheist prison population update

In 2010, in response to a freedom of information act request, the Federal Bureau of Prisons says that on February 12, 1010, atheists represented .08% of the prison population (http://bornatheist.com/files/Federal_prison_statistics.pdf).  This is consistent with Rod Swift's 1997 FOIA request response.

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The argument

I never was quite certain why the Christians always use this argument as an attempt to prove the existence of God. In many discussions, I have heard them assert "There are no Atheists in prison". Hmm, does the fact that desperate people might feel a need to "turn to God" in the hope of a mistrial or an early parole hearing actually prove the existence that anything is listening or concerned ? Again, it seems to be back to the question of which God is listening to the pleas of the prisoners ? The Islamic Fundamentalist God ? The Yahweh of the Old Testament ? Or the New Age All Accepting all loving deity ?

I have had people use the same argument towards me about potentially threatening situations or tragic ones. For instance "I bet you prayed when you thought that your car was going to crash". or "I bet you prayed when you thought a family member was going to pass away". When I answer these questions with a no, they seem to believe that I am lying.

 

Ingrained ideas that someone can magically see the light and turn to God in times of trouble would still not prove that God was real, in my opinion.

 

However, as to whether or not those percentages are correct, I am not sure that there would be any true way of verifying it. Like other posters have stated, finding God in jail always seems to be a good thing for the parole board. Finding alot of converts in jail might be common, but what of their behaviors after release ? I am not saying that people do not reform, they do, but I wonder how many of these "saved" people are repeat offenders ?Were they saved the last time that they were in jail ? Did getting saved or finding God change their lives after their release ? Or was it a temporary thing to play a get out of prison card ?  How many inmates would be comfortable identifying themselves as Atheists ? After all, prison seems to be a self-governing society where open minded discussion might not have the best acceptance. For instance, would you really admit to Atheism, if you were surrounded by gang members that have Jesus tattoos on their arms beside their gang affiliation tattoos ? There seems to be too many factors to get a totally accurate count.

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As long as lying about

As long as lying about loving Jesus has any chance of positively influencing your chances of parole I'd propably lie my ass off. I'm curious, would any atheists here not lie about it if it could mean let's say 20 years more time in jail?


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We are a minority in prison

We are a minority in prison populations in America because we are a minority. Of course in the UK the number of proclaimed atheists in prisons there are going to be higher because the UK has more atheists.

A better way to look at prison population is not morality va label, because most countries citizens are not criminals compared to the minority in jail. Morality is not dependent on being a believer or being an atheist. Prision populations are aways going to be proportional to the populations beliefs because society is where prisonors come from.

"He wouldn't be in prison if he were a "true" Christian"

Or

"He he wouldn't be in prison if he were a Christian"

 

Are both false.

 

All countries have prisons and the people in them reflect the people of the population they come from in terms of ratio, not in terms of morality.

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A good point

Brian37 wrote:

We are a minority in prison populations in America because we are a minority. Of course in the UK the number of proclaimed atheists in prisons there are going to be higher because the UK has more atheists.

A better way to look at prison population is not morality va label, because most countries citizens are not criminals compared to the minority in jail. Morality is not dependent on being a believer or being an atheist. Prision populations are aways going to be proportional to the populations beliefs because society is where prisonors come from.

"He wouldn't be in prison if he were a "true" Christian"

Or

"He he wouldn't be in prison if he were a Christian"

 

Are both false.

 

All countries have prisons and the people in them reflect the people of the population they come from in terms of ratio, not in terms of morality.

 

If we were in an Islamic Fundamentalist country I am sure the largest majority of prisoners would be followers of Islam. A good point that you made on that one, I hadn't thought of that.

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 harleysportster wrote:I

 

harleysportster wrote:
I have had people use the same argument towards me about potentially threatening situations or tragic ones. For instance "I bet you prayed when you thought that your car was going to crash". or "I bet you prayed when you thought a family member was going to pass away". When I answer these questions with a no, they seem to believe that I am lying.

 

Well, the question that I would ask here would be which god are we supposed to pray to?

 

Really, one fake god is as good as any fake god for this purpose. So the question properly formed is not “Did you pray?” but rather “Did you pray to the god that I happen to be in favor of?” If you think about this, I doubt that your interlocutor would be asking if you prayed to Zeus or Ganesh.

 

Brian37 wrote:
We are a minority in prison populations in America because we are a minority. Of course in the UK the number of proclaimed atheists in prisons there are going to be higher because the UK has more atheists.

 

That is a valid point Brian. However, I think that it may be off the mark. Follow me on this.

 

When that statistic comes up, I think about what is being said on a different level. Sure, we are somewhere around 15-20% of the general population. Yet if we are such a tiny percentage of the prison population, then we are quite underrepresented. The real religions are represented at about the levels one would expect from census data. But not us.

 

So it comes off as a claim of moral superiority. However, I can't see how that works. Getting atheists to agree on stuff is about as reasonable as herding cats. Pretty much we are all human and our morals are a matter of each individual doing as they feel like doing.

 

If you knew me in real life, you would know that I am the poster boy for moral degeneracy. Sure, I am a conservative republican but I don't pay attention to stupid codes of morals. Not that that ever counted for most of our leaders either (Ted Faggard anyone?). The point being that the fact that I don't believe in fake gods has nothing to do with my morals.

 

So why would atheists be underrepresented in the prison population? I am thinking that it is probably a fake statistic.

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That 1997 report

Hi,

The 1997 report that has Denise Golumbaski among its authors is available at bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus97.pdf . It has lots of information on prison populations but includes no data on prisoners' religion. I've been researching this question myself -- I'm suspecting that info on prisoner religious affiliations has been informally but effectively embargoed by prison officials since 1962, and I'm unconvinced by the claim by "Rod Swift" that he has info on prisoner religions from Ms. Golumbaski.

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Tom Flynn wrote:Hi,The 1997

Tom Flynn wrote:

Hi,

The 1997 report that has Denise Golumbaski among its authors is available at bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus97.pdf . It has lots of information on prison populations but includes no data on prisoners' religion. I've been researching this question myself -- I'm suspecting that info on prisoner religious affiliations has been informally but effectively embargoed by prison officials since 1962, and I'm unconvinced by the claim by "Rod Swift" that he has info on prisoner religions from Ms. Golumbaski.

Tom Flynn, editor, FREE INQUIRY

So there are likely far more Christians in prison?

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scottmax wrote: It would be

scottmax wrote:
It would be pretty embarrassing if Sapient and gang mentioned the .2% stat while on the phone with a Theist and the Theist called them on it.

If this happens, just say it was not intended to be a factual statement. If it works for Jon Kyl it will probably work for most of my fellow theistsSmiling


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Yah, I have to go with Tom

Yah, I have to go with Tom on this one.  In the months since this thread came up, I found the report on my own and the data is not really there in any useful manner.  Some very careful and selective data mining can sort of get you there but not in a way that will get you to real numbers in the table that tends to get passed around the internet.

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jcgadfly wrote:So there are

jcgadfly wrote:

So there are likely far more Christians in prison?

 

I would say fewer.  People will lie to get out of prison as in the parole board example earlier.  If that, then they will also lie to get a better prison life while they are waiting to get out.

 

If I had to go to the place, I know that on day 1 I would be looking for the right social circle to hang with.  In all honesty, as long as they have the right idea about Romans chapter 3 and butt sex, well, I don't really care if they all have swastika tattoos.  Really, I can get the tattoo lasered off the day that I get out but I will have kept my pants on.

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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

jcgadfly wrote:

So there are likely far more Christians in prison?

 

I would say fewer.  People will lie to get out of prison as in the parole board example earlier.  If that, then they will also lie to get a better prison life while they are waiting to get out.

 

If I had to go to the place, I know that on day 1 I would be looking for the right social circle to hang with.  In all honesty, as long as they have the right idea about Romans chapter 3 and butt sex, well, I don't really care if they all have swastika tattoos.  Really, I can get the tattoo lasered off the day that I get out but I will have kept my pants on.

So an atheist would stay in prison and own up to their misdeeds while a Christian will lie his/her ass off to get out?

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jcgadfly wrote:So an atheist

jcgadfly wrote:

So an atheist would stay in prison and own up to their misdeeds while a Christian will lie his/her ass off to get out?

 

well, duh

 

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It's sad when you can

It's sad when you can discern a necropost before even clicking on the damn thread...

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I guess people suddenly

I guess people suddenly stopped lying about being religious.