Religious Groups and Prison Reform

February 26, 1982

Report Outline
Religious Group's Involvement
Overcrowding: Target of Reform
Alternatives to Incarceration
Special Focus

Religious Group's Involvement

Recent Activism in Prison Reform Efforts

One of the most vicious prison riots in U.S. history occurred a little over two years ago at the New Mexico State Prison at Santa Fe. The New Mexico riot drew national attention to the conditions said to be responsible for the uprising—prison overcrowding and understaffing of poorly trained and poorly paid guards. After the uprising the state hired a new prison director, instituted new training programs for guards and allocated money for more guard positions and higher salaries as well as for more prison space. However, many prison officials in New Mexico and elsewhere believe that overcrowding in American jails and prisons will get much worse unless the criminal justice system eases its over-reliance on incarceration and adopts more alternative work and treatment programs.

Their concern is shared by the growing number of religious groups involved in prison reform. Many of these groups, representing different faiths, share a belief in the importance of spiritual rehabilitation, a philosophy stated in 1870 by the American Prison Association (now called the American Correctional Association): “We have a profound conviction of the inefficiency of all measures of reformation except as such are based on religion.”

Religious groups currently active inside prisons—particularly those representing the Muslim faith and Christian Evangelicalism—are in fact changing some prisoners' lives by helping them to see themselves as contributing members of a community rather than as outcasts. Outside prison walls, religious groups are involved in efforts to liberate prisoners from what is portrayed as a basically unjust and inhumane criminal justice system that encourages rather than deters criminal behavior. Some religious groups advocate a moratorium on all prison construction and support the use of alternative means of punishment.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 12, 2019  Bail Reform
Oct. 19, 2018  For-Profit Prisons
Mar. 03, 2017  Women in Prison
Jan. 10, 2014  Sentencing Reform
Sep. 14, 2012  Solitary Confinement
Mar. 11, 2011  Downsizing Prisons
Dec. 04, 2009  Prisoner Reentry
Apr. 06, 2007  Prison Reform
Jan. 05, 2007  Prison Health Care
Sep. 17, 1999  Prison-Building Boom
Feb. 04, 1994  Prison Overcrowding
Oct. 20, 1989  Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link
Aug. 04, 1989  Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?
Aug. 07, 1987  Prison Crowding
Nov. 25, 1983  Prison Overcrowding
Feb. 26, 1982  Religious Groups and Prison Reform
Jun. 18, 1976  Criminal Release System
Mar. 12, 1976  Reappraisal of Prison Policy
Oct. 20, 1971  Racial Tensions in Prisons
Oct. 13, 1965  Rehabilitation of Prisoners
Oct. 09, 1957  Prisons and Parole
May 02, 1952  Penal Reform
Jan. 30, 1937  The Future of Prison Industry
May 08, 1930  Prison Conditions and Penal Reform
Religion and Politics
Sentencing and Corrections