Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Religion and prison stats

Today I'm looking at a break down of prisoners and their offences by religion. This actually came about because I was writing something else which went wrong and I didn't want to waste the number crunching I'd already done. The base figures are from home office stats for Sept. 2006.

Of those prisoners who expressed a 'preference' 32% of the total prison population said that they had "no religion" and 68% specified a specific faith. By comparing this total to the ten categories we can see which offences we see more religious people than we might expect and those where those without religion have greater representation.

The section in orange cover the offences where the religious are over represented. The section in yellow are those offences where there is a greater proportion of the "no religion" group than we might expect to see if this was evenly spread. The numbers indicate the proportion of the prison population (by offence and total).

The difference is pretty stark in some cases. Adhering to some sort of faith meant that you were far less likely to commit a motoring offence but far more likely to indulge in fraud, sexual offences, drugs and robbery.

So let's section off the Christians from the other religions for a moment. The figures you see here are the proportion of Christians compared to other faith groups so that of the various religions represented in prison just over 78% of them are Christians of one denomination or another.

What I find interesting here is that whilst drugs and fraud offences were high for religious people as a whole, Christians were significantly under represented in these areas (with Muslims taking these offences as their highest "scoring").


This calls from examination of the difference Christian denominations and once again, to my surprise, there was a massive difference between the faiths. By far the two largest groups of Christians were the Anglicans and Catholics who make up over 90% of the Christian prison population.

Of all the categories Catholics were the most under represented in sexual offences and Anglicans were the polar opposite, massively over represented. Now, I'll admit a bit of prejudice here - I always think of Catholics as, well, messed up sexually, and I was expecting to see this group over represented in this category. Quite the reverse is actually the case.

So I thought I'd dig into the stats on sexual offences. The numbers you see here are arrived at by dividing the proportion of the total prison population a particular religion is by the total proportion of the sexual offenders that same group makes up. Those with a number higher than one are groups where there are more sexual offenders than you might expect, those with less than one there are less sexual offenders. For example if a group had a score of 0.5 it would mean there were half as many of this group than we might expect to see if that group was spread evenly among the prison population.

As an example, for clarity, this does mean there are more Jewish sexual offenders than, say, Catholics. The hard numbers are 23 Jews in prison for sexual offences and 890 Catholics. It is simply that, as a proportion of the prison population we'd expect to see less Jews here and more Catholics.

To make it easy all the orange groups are over represented among sexual offenders and those in yellow are under represented. I'm not arguing cause and effect here, just looking at correlations. We should also bear in mind that people may well change their faith after committing an imprisonable offence.

As I say these numbers came out of something else so I'm not trying to make any particular claims for these stats, I just didn't want to see them go to waste. Plus I think they're interesting. All the hard numbers are available from the link at the beginning if you want to check my working (or feel free to ask questions about something I've not explored and I might be able to give you the answer from my work sheet).

16 comments:

John Angliss said...

The obvious question that comes out of this is what are the figures when compared to the population in general rather than the prison population alone?

Strategist said...

Coo, what a data set! Fascinating stuff. Just a coupla quickies:

1. Are the variations in offending by religion actually statistically significant? They certainly look remarkably divergent, but it's worth a check.

2. I'm guessing many of the lags are reporting their religion on the basis of their family tradition rather than any active faith they might hold or practise at the time.

On the second, I have often noticed that what they are really after with the question "what is your religion?" is never made explicit on the forms where this question gets asked eg equal opportunity monitoring, the census. And this must bugger up the source data to a degree.

Oh yeah, and 3. What's the "Free Church" when it's at home? Is that an official blanket term replacing the old "nonconformist"? I've never heard it before, but then again I'm not really active in those circles. Or is virtually every member of the small Free Church of Scotland an imprisoned sex pervert???

Jim Jay said...

John. I've looked up those stats but decided not to include them because it takes you into a new minefield involving a lot more work.

For example the prison population is biased towards those at the "lower" end of the social scale and towards many ethnic minorities. To get an accurate figure you need to factor that in (for example if poor people are more likely to be Catholic you would likely see more Catholics in jail even if it was not a factor at all).

I am come back to this though. I don't want to avoid the question - but it's more complicated than it looks.

Strategist: I think Free Church refers to nonconfirmist/evangelical although there is no explanation. There are just over a thousand of them in all in jail (which is four times as many as the number of hindus for example).

I was also curious about non-recognised. They can't all be Jedis surely.

On 2. I think there may be another factor too. I've not been in prison myself but I'm pretty sure that declaring religion can have material effects. Food for example. Also going to "chapel" which may or may not be seen as a treat - so you may actually have more people becoming "active" in their faith because there's a material advantage to do so.

I'm having images of that scene from Scum when the lad says to the governor "I'm feeling drawn to Mecca" and his face goes purple.

Lastly on statistic significance I think it's a worthwhile question and I'll have a look at that tonight.

Strategist said...

Jim. "that scene from Scum when the lad says to the governor "I'm feeling drawn to Mecca" and his face goes purple" - great stuff.

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peter said...

Regarding religion v no religion I would bet self interest plays a big part.

people expressing no religion are most likely to commit minor offences.

If somebody wants to get early parole for a serious offence, showing an interest in religion is a good way of showing you've reformed.

Motoring offenders don't really need to show they've reformed. But it's pretty important for fraudsters and sex offenders.

Jim Jay said...

This sounds very plausible - good call.

However, if we look at the faiths at the "top" of our league table other and free church, then Buddhist before we get to C of E and Judaism. I think if I was going to "cynically" find religion why would I be more likely to choose Buddist than Anglican?

And why did no one convert to Islam for the same reasons?

I'm finding this fascinating.

Strategist said...

Convert to Islam and you might get extraordinary rendition rather than parole. Convert to Buddhism and they'll assume you wouldn't harm even a fly from now on?

Would I be right in saying that Britain probably has fewer Buddhists than any other major religion, and probably the highest proportion of converts as opposed to born & bred into the religion?

Jim Jay said...

If you discount the tiny religions Buddhism is indeed the smallest religion with 0.3% of the population in 2001.

I've only ever met European Buddists so I suspect you're right but couldn't easily find stats on whether they were converts or not.

Figures here

My understanding was that convertion to Islam is quite high in jails - but again I don't have figures on that.

Jim Jay said...

I tell a lie! Just found this which tells me that less than half of UK Buddhists were born in this country - which is less than Muslims even.

Only Hindus have a smaller proportion of their followers born in the country.

ModernityBlog said...

there was a similar survey of American jails, which suggested that those who believe in God are more likely to be locked up or commit crime.

So much for the morality of religious groupings!

I'll stick to being an atheist :)

Tim said...

I remember reading something about Ian Brown from the Stone Roses converting to Islam when in prison.

A bit of googling turns up:

"It was the only way I could keep alive, foodwise. It was all dog-food pies, so I went Muslim and I got lentils, chickpeas, rice and chicken curry on Friday. They told me that half of Manchester's Muslim in Kirkham nick. It's the only way you can be guaranteed chicken."

Green Gordon said...

There definitely were a lot of jail-conversions to Islam (presumably as a result of Nation of Islam?) but perhaps the figures were scare-mongered up a bit. A close member of my family was convinced it was because Muslims got better meals.

Adrian Windisch said...

Am I coulour blind? I cant see which is yellow and which is orange. I would say they were pink and peach. Might just be my computer of course.

Perhaps for those with colour vision the red is behind the green.

Jim Jay said...

I hope it's your monitor!

The orange is the top, yellow the bottom.

Matt Wardman said...

Fascinating, and a veritable can of worms. Throwing in a few more curve balls...

I think that on a couple of occasions you're drawing conclusions about offences based on religions professed after imprisonment. That's assuming that it hasn't actually changed - you need a comparison with the professed religion at the time of the offence.

For that you would have to differentiate "active" (i.e., attend worship) from passive (who don't attend worship and are "cultural" Christians or Muslims. The overall numbers for Anglicans and Muslims are about 10-15% attend church and 30-50% attend Mosque.

You'd then need those numbers for those who get sent to prison.

>there was a similar survey of American jails, which suggested that those who believe in God are more likely to be locked up or commit crime.

You also need to factor in the converse of this - that those who are locked up are more likely to say that they believe in God (you might find a similar effect among those who have a dying/recently dead relative). The biggest example of the "stress" tendency was surely the boost of spiritualism after the 1914-1918 war.

There is also the possibility of extra privileges that can come with professing - classically that could be more out of cell time or the opportunity to (e.g., for the trad example) scrounge cigs from the Chaplain.

Certainly the stats are that a belief is likely to be adopted at times of stress or vulnerability, and when individuals are at rock bottom.

One more: adopting a faith may be viewed positively by governors as a step forward on the rehabilitation route.

No idea how to account for all of those, but I can probably find some info in the literature. There's been (I think) a fair amount of research.

One more:
>Oh yeah, and 3. What's the "Free Church" when it's at home? Is that an official blanket term replacing the old "nonconformist"?

That's about right. It usually means Non-Conformist denominations. Methodist, Baptist, and various others probably including Greek Orthodox etc. Not sure what happens to totally independent congregations.

Matt

Jim Jay said...

Hi Matt, yeah there's a lot to unpick.

I suspect that it will be difficult to statistically get to the bottom of much of this but rather it needs more qualitative information.

For instance comparing declared religion before and after will be impossible because you can't compare like with like. This data is, I believe, taken from the prison records for each prisoner, there is no equivalent for the rest of the citizenry (that we know about anyway).

As you say priveleges like food, time out of cell, possible earlier release etc could well be a big incentive to finding religion. There could well be a more genuine side to it in that if you're imprisoned for years you may well seek solace in spiritual answers.