IV. Limitations of Studies
Many scholars have noted several important limitations of the research literature on religion, crime, and faith-based prison programs. First, scholars have questioned the quality and quantity of the measures of religiosity in some previous studies. Johnson, De Li, et al. (2000) found in their systematic review that only about half of the 40 studies they reviewed included three or more measures of religiosity. They also found that only 65% of the studies measured religious attendance, and only 35% measured time spent in prayer. Second, many studies were based on samples of individuals who had volunteered for faith-based interventions, as opposed to participants who had been randomly assigned to a religious or nonreligious group. This allows for the possibility of self-selection bias, because the effects of a religious program may be due not to the program itself but to whatever caused individuals to get involved in religion in the first place. Third, the large majority of studies have used all-male or predominantly male populations in the U.S. general population or in U.S. prisons. Additional research needs to be conducted with females and in other countries. Fourth, the overwhelming majority of studies have used cross-sectional data gathered at one point in time instead of longitudinal data gathered at multiple points in time. For example, only 5 of the 40 studies reviewed by Johnson, De Li, et al. (2000) used longitudinal data. Thus, more longitudinal studies are needed to determine the long-term impact of religion on crime, deviant behavior, prison behavior, recidivism, and crime control attitudes.
An impressive body of research has identified a significant relationship between religion and a wide range of attitudes, behaviors, and life events. Studies of the relationship between religion and crime, however, have not shown the same significant and uniform effects. This research paper has provided a review of the literature on religion and crime from three distinctive topic areas: (1) the effects of religion on the commission of criminal and deviant acts, (2) the effects of religion on prison misconduct and recidivism, and (3) the effects of religion on attitudes toward crime control. Studies in all three areas suggest a nuanced and inconsistent relationship between religion and crime. It is fair to say that religion, to varying degrees, is related to several crime-related factors. Additional research is needed to explore further the relationship and to understand the nuances. So long as religion continues to be a recognizable and prominent social institution, researchers will continue to assess the extent to which it influences crime and related factors.
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