Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blogger files Freedom of Information Act request to finally determine how many Atheists are in the prison system. Answer will blow your mind.

Courtesy of The Friendly Atheist: 

Earlier this month, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Bureau of Prisons asking them about the religious makeup of prisoners. Over the weekend, to my surprise, I received a response. 

Not only did they have the information, they gave me a faith-by-faith breakdown. 

So… what do we learn from that information? 

Of the prisoners willing to give their religious affiliations (and that’s an important caveat), atheists make up 0.07% of the prison population. 

Not 1%. 

Not even the 0.2% we’ve been using for so long. 

Atheists constitute an even smaller percentage of the prison population than we ever imagined. (That includes prisoners whose affiliations were unknown. If I used Golumbaski’s method, the number would be 0.09%.) 

In addition to that, Protestants make up 28.7% of the prison population; Catholics, 24%; Muslims, 5.5%; American Indians, 3.1%. 

Okay now of course we all know that there is such a thing as prison conversion, so some of the people identified as one religion or another  may have come in unaffiliated or without muhc religious instruction to speak of.

However I will go on record as saying that I don't believe that too many of those converted started out as Atheists, for the simple fact that being an Atheist usually requires a great deal of research and self evaluation.

It is not something that a person would casually identify themselves as, esepcially in America.

So while I am not willing to say that it never happens that an Atheist is converted to religion in prison, I am fairly confident that it is not the most common of conversions to occur.

Having said that I would simply add that with the number of Atheists being so incredibly low it would seem to indicate that either there are fewer Atheists breaking the law than those who claim to be religious, regardless of which religion, or that there are just as many Atheists breaking the law, but they are too intelligent to get caught.

I tend to think that it is the first.

And remember these are people who do the right thing, NOT for fear of punishment of eternal damnation, but because doing the right thing, is the right thing to do.

Immoral minority my ass!


  1. My husband always says that Atheists are more moral and kind, because there is no "praying for forgiveness" to excuse your actions. No confessions and penance. All you have is the life you lead, and the way you treat others. And looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning. Let your conscious be your guide.
    I agree.

    1. Anonymous7:54 AM

      100% agree!

  2. I vote for “too smart to get caught." Or not escape, if captured--witness Abbie Hoffman.

  3. Anonymous3:21 AM

    When you believe that some guy in the sky forgives your every crime ... well, there's nothing to stop you from lying and cheating and stealing and committing sex crimes.

    Rules only apply to other people. Isn't that right, Sarah?

  4. Anonymous3:27 AM

    If you add up the denominations you get 61.3%. Then add in the atheists you get 61.37%. What about the rest? Are they "undecided"?

    1. Anonymous12:58 PM

      Too lazy to click a link?

  5. Leland4:01 AM

    As a play on your last sentence, Gryphen:

    So much for the Moral Majority!!!!!

  6. Anonymous4:52 AM

    This seems to hold true with my personal experience The people I've met who have demonstrated they live by a high moral code have been either agnostic, atheist, or unaffiliated. The people who proclaim their Christian faith the loudest, I've found, are those I back away from because they will be the first to violence, the first to lie, and the first to treat their fellow citizens with loathing and disrespect. There are many openly religious people who live good, decent lives and whose faith helps them do so, but there seem to more for whom religion is simply a social front, a mask to hide their inner ugliness.

  7. Anonymous6:40 AM

    What about the other roughly 40%???

  8. Anonymous8:15 AM

    As an atheist, I'm right there with you, Gryphen.

    As a professor of research methods, this study doesn't really tell you what you need to know.

    We actually want to know what percentage of atheists end up in prison vs. the percentage of theists.

    Taking this to an outrageous degree, what if you found out that .07% of the US population was atheist. Then you'd have to say that 100% of atheists end up in prison. That's not a very good prognosis for atheists.

    Obviously, there are some real problems with using prison populations to say anything about people who commit crime (you have to go through a lot of gate keepers to get to have to commit a crime, get caught, get arrested, get charged, get arraigned, plead guilty or be found guilty, get sentenced to prison).

    We also have to take into consideration the number of people who are really atheist but don't say so, even on anonymous surveys, because they aren't quite ready to do so or because their identity as catholic or mormon or muslim, etc. is a cultural one rather than a religious one.

    In other words, the numbers in this survey tell us one thing only and that is the percentage of atheists in prison. We can't draw any conclusions about causality or even correlation based on that.

  9. Anonymous8:49 AM

    When looking at those statistics it is important to know what percentage of the general population in America is atheist, Catholic, etc., and to see how that is reflected in the prison system.

  10. Anonymous1:18 PM

    Are you rational/believe in the scientific method/don't fit conclusions to what you want to hear/etc. as an atheist?

    "Overall, U.S. Americans who profess no religion or self-identify as atheist or agnostic are more likely to be white or Asian and less likely to be black or Hispanic, as compared to the general adult population in U.S." - We already know that whites tend to avoid prison at a much higher rate than blacks for the same crimes.

    "In the U.S., 55 percent of atheists are under age 35, while 30 percent are 50 and over (compared to 37 percent of the total population)." - What is the average age of an inmate and do inmate religious affiliations change over time in prison? i.e. does being in prison longer make you more/less likely to believe in a higher power?

    "The most recent ARIS report, released March 9, 2009, found in 2008, 34.2 million Americans (15.0%) claim no religion, of which 1.6% explicitly describes itself as atheist (0.7%) or agnostic (0.9%), nearly double the previous 2001 ARIS survey figure of 0.9%." So it's .7% popl in society, and 0.07% in prison.

    In contrast: Protestant population in the US: 55%. Prison population: 28.7%.

    22% Catholics - US popl, 24% - prison popl

    "1.7 percent of all people in the United States identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races" - 3.3% Native in prison. Do Native beliefs make someone predisposed to commit crime?

    Muslims in US popl: 0.8%; in prison: 5.5%. "Nearly a quarter of the Muslims are converts to Islam (23%), mainly native-born." "He also claims that 80% of the prisoners who "find faith" while in prison convert to Islam" (

    The idea that people can convert only from Atheism if they have properly researched it first? Please - a man could "find God" after getting to prison where before he "felt nothing." See: Malcolm X.

    So if prison were an accurate representation of society, then 55% would be Protestant and 0.7% would be Atheist. If I were you, I'd be wondering why Protestants are so under-represented. "What about the Protestant faith keeps them out of prison?!" - Come on.

    "According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population in 2009." Population in the US? 12.6%. Would you like to draw conclusions about the lifestyle choices of certain groups from that figure? Or might there be other racial/socioeconomic issues at play?

    Might want to research a bit more.

  11. Anonymous2:13 PM

    My mother used to tell me whenever I got hurt that god was punishing me for something. WTF, I was just a kid. What kind of evil could I commit?

    Needless to say, we don't have the best relationship.

  12. The prisons are Christian recruitment machines. They have a captive audience and provide Christian materials to inmates. Most of the activities in the Alaska prison system are centered around religion and the inmates go because they can get coffee and cookies. Most of the rehab programs are done by religious groups as well.

  13. Anonymous7:08 PM

    Repeating something I've said before: That little Christian "Fish" symbol is a RED FLAG for me.


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