WASHINGTON – A major survey of prison chaplains has concluded that many chaplains believe religious extremism to be common in prisons, but not a major security threat.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life of 730 prison chaplains in America, 41 percent of respondents said they found religious extremism very or somewhat common. However, 76 percent of respondents believe that religious extremism in prisons was rarely or almost never a security threat.
The findings were presented at a lunch and discussion event titled "Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains," which was held at the Pew Research Center's office and broadcasted online.
Cary Funk, one of the researchers who conducted the survey, told The Christian Post that the chaplains "don't tell us why they don't consider it a security threat."
During her remarks at the event, Funk explained that the parameters for the term "religious extremism" included intolerance of specific racial or social groups, religious exclusivity, and unreasonable or extreme request for accommodation.
Stephanie Boddie, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life who helped conduct the survey, was the first to speak at event after the opening remarks. Boddie provided an overview of the survey and the methodology that the researchers utilized when analyzing the feedback they received.
The survey was conducted from September 21, 2011 to December 23, 2011 and was completed by 730 prison chaplains from all 50 states. The sample represented nearly half of the entire paid prison chaplain population of the United States.
"We were interested in the roles that prison chaplains play," said Boddie, who also cautioned about one limitation of the study.
"It is important to emphasize that this is a survey of prison chaplains, who naturally bring their own perspectives and attitudes."
According to Boddie, most of the chaplains were Caucasian, male, middle-aged, socially and politically conservative, Protestant, and had an advanced college degree.
In addition to Boddie and Funk, there were two other speakers: John Dilulio, professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society of the University of Pennsylvania and Tom O'Connor, CEO of Transforming Corrections and former Research Manager for the Oregon State Department of Corrections.
Dilulio provided a more critical response, saying that although it was a "very well done survey," the findings announced were flawed given their reliance on recipients' opinions rather than factual data.
"This survey has obvious and understandable limitations. Essentially what you have is…the modal respondent being a white middle-aged religiously and politically conservative Protestant male," said Dilulio.
"It's very important to remember that we are dealing with a survey."
Dilulio also said that the study suffered from not surveying volunteer workers in prisons, whom he believes were a sizable population that by being volunteers were more committed to the efforts of prison reform and ministry.