A belief in divine forgiveness leads to a more positive attitude toward providing help to individuals returning from prison, according to a study published in Criminal Justice Policy Review. The study, based on a survey of 915 randomly selected Missouri residents, examined the impact of religious beliefs on support for rehabilitative programs such as housing assistance and transitional counseling, noting that support for prisoner reentry initiatives often “fades dramatically” when serious and chronic offenders are the recipients of such services.
The survey results suggested that “both advocates and opponents of specific reentry initiatives will miss a critical piece of an effective strategy to alter public attitudes if religious beliefs are ignored,” write Brett Garland, Eric Wodahl, and Rebecca Gretchen Smith in the study entitled “Religious Beliefs and Public Support for Prisoner Reentry, The researchers found that those whose beliefs involved a “punitive God” were less likely to support such initiatives.
The authors noted that the historical correlation between religion and the American corrections system can be seen as early as the American Revolution. More recently, Congressional support for the Second Chance Act of 2007 was secured by citing Biblical passages about forgiveness.
Missouri was selected because it reflects the U.S. population in a number of demographics, researchers wrote. The group, which was 59 percent male, was described as politically moderate with a slight conservative bent, mostly white (91 percent) and with an average age of 55. More than half were Protestant (55 percent) while the remainder identified as Catholic (22 percent) or having no religious affiliation (23 percent).