Another Look at the Percentage of Atheists in Prison March 13, 2015

Another Look at the Percentage of Atheists in Prison

We know that the percentage of atheists in prison is much smaller than the percentage of atheists in the general population. There are several reasons for that, and it’s *way* too simplistic to suggest we’re “more moral” than everyone else… so don’t do it.

But how different are our numbers from those of religious believers?

Mona Chalabi of FiveThirtyEight has taken the numbers I acquired in 2013, combined it with U.S. census data, and created this nifty chart, showing the ratios of prisoners’ religious affiliations in prison versus the general population:

The chart is saying, for example, that the percentage of atheists in the general population is nearly 10 times what you’d find in prison. (The disparity for Pentecostals is even greater.) On the other end of the spectrum, “a prisoner is 39 times more likely than an un-incarcerated person to identify his or her religion as American Indian.”

But again, this is not a morality chart. It’s not like Buddhists (who are lower on the chart because there’s a slightly higher proportion of them in prison than in the general population) are “worse” than Hindus.

Chalabi offers a number of reasons these percentages are what they are, including income and race, which undoubtedly play a significant role in our incarceration rates.

So we end up with a lot of interesting data that doesn’t really tell us a whole lot. Not that that’ll stop people from speculating…


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