The religious beliefs of incarcerated men have not
Studies suggest that religion can help prisoners cope with prison life and can affect the likelihood of recidivism. A new longitudinal study examined how the religious beliefs of male prisoners affected their reintegration into the community. The study found that men with stable or increasing religious beliefs had no better reintegration outcomes than men with decreasing religious beliefs.
The study, conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Florida State University (FSU), appears in Quarterly justicea publication of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.
“Many barriers, including finding and keeping a job, securing housing, reconnecting with family and others, prevent religion from effectively supporting the reintegration process for many incarcerated men, which can encourage relapse,” explains Iman Said, doctoral student in sociology and criminology. at Penn State, which led the study. “Our findings question religious programs in prison as the only way to reduce recidivism and boost post-release success and suggest a lack of relationship between religious beliefs and recidivism.”
Religion and prisoner studies have focused on religion as a possible catalyst for identity transformation, helping individuals come to terms with their previous criminal selves and move towards an ambitious future selves, one that inspires them not to not reoffend. Other studies have examined religion as a source of informal social control, with its influence stemming from membership in a religious group and having religious friends, which may reduce the risk of recidivism.
Researchers have begun to merge these two pathways, recognizing that network ties are often the driving force behind identity transformation and that the influence of informal social control relies on some degree of agency and identity change. .
In this study, researchers used longitudinal data from men in a therapeutic community (a program for men with substance use disorders) in a Pennsylvania prison, along with information about prison life and after prison, to explore the impact of religion. at the beginning of the school year (for the quantitative analysis, 174 men were studied; for the qualitative analysis, 51). They examined how religion influences behavior inside and outside prison, the protective effect of religion on recidivism, and the usefulness of religion in overcoming structural barriers during reintegration.
Religiosity was measured through interviews that included questions about the frequency of participation in religious activities before, during and after prison.
The relationship between religion and desistance (stopping offending or other antisocial behavior) can be complicated by structural barriers to reintegration and high rates of substance use among incarcerated populations. The study also examined the effect of substance use among incarcerated populations and the difficulty of simultaneous reintegration and recovery, an important issue given the prevalence of religion in recovery programs. At various times in the history of the American criminal justice system, faith-based programming accounted for most programming; the men in this study had regular access to church services, faith-based programs, and a full-time chaplain.
The study found that incarcerated people with stable or growing religious beliefs used religion to reconcile past mistakes and create an ambitious future self; this is consistent with studies that have identified religion as a potential catalyst for identity transformation. Many respondents said they practiced a religion independently of organized programs, with some spending time reading the Bible or reflecting on themselves, for example.
Incarcerated people with decreasing religious beliefs had a more hopeless attitude towards their imprisonment and did not trust other incarcerated people. They tended to see religion not as a personal experience but as something that could be used to occupy time. Therefore, the role of religion in prison may depend on individuals’ initial openness to positive change, the authors suggest.
With respect to post-release outcomes, the potential of religion to stimulate identity transformation lies in its use as a signal to family members that the individual is ready to change and as a motor that motivates the individual to stick to their goals – but even that becomes insufficient over time, according to the study.
Despite the importance of religious beliefs in motivating incarcerated people to transform their identities and lead more prosocial lives, religion was insufficient to overcome barriers to successful reintegration and recovery, the study found. Thus, contrary to expectations, individuals who reported increasing or stable religious beliefs did not have better reintegration outcomes than individuals who reported decreasing religious beliefs. Many found they had no time to attend church services or participate in self-reflection, and many returned to substance use.
The study also identified some inmates as stably non-religious. These men were more likely to be white and younger, to report opioid use, and to reoffend. They were less committed to their prison treatment program and had a fatalistic view of their ability to change. Coming of age in the opioid crisis, the authors suggest, caused these men to lose faith in their ability to intervene effectively.
Although analyzes showed that increased or stable religiosity may reduce the likelihood of recidivism, these categories did not reach statistical significance in this study. In contrast, men in the stably non-religious group had a greater likelihood of recidivism, and this relationship was the only one that was statistically significant. But in other analyses, none of the men in the religious group had a strong statistical relationship with recidivism, suggesting that there is no relationship between religion and recidivism.
“The study findings have implications for prison programming,” according to Kim Davidson, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at FSU, co-author of the study. “Religious programs are popular with the public and policy makers, many of whom believe that religion can change the disposition of incarcerated people, making them a prosocial person who will successfully reintegrate into society. But these programs may not improve the reintegration of individuals into the community.
Limitations of the study include that its data came from a single institution and a small number of participants in a therapeutic community, and that it did not address potential differences between religiosity and spirituality. .
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Justice.
The title of the article
A mixed method evaluation of the role of religion in desistance and reintegration
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