August 06, 2009

What's the fastest-growing religion in Britain's jails?

You guessed it, Buddhism. While Buddhists make up only 0.26% of the general population, they're 2% of the prison population, and their numbers have increased eightfold over the past decade.

Buddhism's growth in Britain's prison system now outstrips that of Muslims, whose numbers have merely doubled. According to the Telegraph, some institutions and prison hospitals "have opened shrines known as Buddha Groves in their grounds," and a nationwide network of prison chaplains have plenty to keep them busy.

While the overall numbers may seem small compared with the vast prison population in the United States, the percentage increase in the number of Buddhist inmates is significant. From the Telegraph:

In 1997 there were only 226 Buddhists in prisons in England and Wales, but by the end of June 2008 that figure had risen by 669 per cent to reach 1,737 – 2 per cent of the 79,734 prison population.

The vast majority, 1,194, were white and most were over 30. Only 78 were female.

And the Buddhist inmates will have plenty of time to meditate before they're free to leave:

Detailed statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that almost all were serving long sentences. In total, 621 were serving terms of four years or more, while a further 521 had been given indeterminate sentences.

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James Shaheen's picture

Red: Yes, very true, and in no small part part due to the efforts of Fleet Maull and his indefatigable colleague Kate Crisp-Casavecchia. Check out the Prison Dharma Network.

Alexia: No. Not at all. It just means that more and more people in prison are turning to Buddhism.

Alexia's picture

Does that mean that Buddhists are 8 times more inclined to do serious crime than others?

red's picture

I've heard that Buddhism is on the rise America's jail system too.