32% of prisoners in England and Wales on 30 June 2010 professed no religion, the identical figure to March 2000, although the prison population had increased by 30% during the course of the decade.
The proportion of irreligious did not vary greatly by gender, but it did by ethnicity, ranging from 4% for Asians to 38% for whites. Age also made a difference, the number falling to 18% for prisoners aged 60 and over and peaking at 44% for the 15-17s.
On the assumption that length of sentence equates to the seriousness of the crime, it is interesting to note that those serving shorter sentences were more likely to claim no religion (38%) than those serving longer (four years or more or indeterminate) sentences (26%). Recalls, however, included an above-average number of irreligious (36%).
These are some of the calculations which can be made from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)’s Offender Management Caseload Statistics for 2010, which are available as a series of Excel spreadsheets (with tables A1.21-A1.25 covering the raw data for religion, but no percentages) at:
24% of prisoners in 2010 claimed to be Anglicans, 17% Roman Catholics, 7% other Christians, 12% Muslims, and 5% of other faiths. In 3% of cases religion was not recorded, an unusually high proportion compared with previous years (possibly related to a change of IT systems used by the MoJ for data-gathering).
The percentage of Muslim prisoners has almost doubled since 2000, partly reflecting the natural growth of Muslims in society at large, and partly the concentration of criminals among young and economically disadvantaged people, who are disproportionately Muslim. 59% of Muslim prisoners were aged 15-29 compared with 47% of all prisoners.
A special study of Muslim Prisoners’ Experiences has already been covered by BRIN at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=336.
Roman Catholics were likewise over-represented among the prison population, relative to the community as a whole, albeit their proportion of prisoners has not changed since 2000. This is a long-standing phenomenon and has recently been subject to detailed investigation in Scotland. See http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=1008.