Religious ministry to people in prison reaches back to the 15th century (Zimmer, 2005). Later the phenomenon of religion influenced the penal system in the United States where the linkage between religion and rehabilitation was manifested in the Calvinist New York silent system and the Quaker Philadelphia separate system (O'Connor, 2004). Religion was also influential in penal reform in England and Wales during the late 18th century (Howard, 1777) and evangelical theology inspired the probation system which emerged from the police court mission of the Church of England Temperance Society (Whitehead and Statham, 2006). Additionally Gilbert (1966) asserted that various humanitarian institutions within Victorian society operated with a religious ideology. Accordingly there is a historical connection of considerable longevity between the spheres of religion, penal policy, and criminal justice formation.
The previous decade has witnessed a renaissance of the religious question within criminal justice in the United States (Sundt, Dammer and Cullen, 2002). It has also erupted into life in England and Wales within the context of structural re-formation associated with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), and the Green Paper Breaking the Cycle (Ministry of Justice, 2010) encourages the diversification of offender services through creating opportunities for the public, private, and third sectors. Within this marketised environment interest has been directed towards the efficacy of religion and faith-based interventions to rehabilitate offenders, which resonates with the Big Society of the Conservative-Liberal coalition government. Furthermore an extensive body of evidence has accumulated on the efficacy of religion and correctional programmes located within the United States as well as other countries (Aos, Miller and Drake, 2006; O'Connor, 2004, 2004/5; Johnson, 2011), according to which some studies 'have found a link between spiritual practice and reduced recidivism, but other studies have found no such link' (O'Connor, Cayton, Min and Duncan, 2007: 2).
The purpose and scope of this article considers some of the evidence on the relationship between religion, faith-based interventions, and crime reduction. By doing so it exposes surface tensions which impinge upon the rationale of faith communities, particularly the relatively new phenomenon of community chaplaincy which will assume analytical relevance later. At this point it should be clarified that community chaplaincy began in Canada during the 1980s and over recent years has taken root in England and Wales where it supports people leaving prison. Indubitably the dominant theme within contemporary criminal justice remains reducing crime, to which community chaplaincy is expected to contribute. However it will be argued that the religious question has significance beyond the narrow instrumental confines of achieving this often elusive objective. This includes a perspective often neglected which is the moral obligation of community chaplaincy to engage with people leaving prison through supportive relationships, but also to draw attention to structural and material factors in what is an increasingly testing economic environment. It is therefore timely to draw attention to the religious question through the lens of community chaplaincy within contemporary criminal justice. Before expanding upon these matters it is necessary to review some of the evidence on religion, deviance, and crime. In doing so I refer to the research environment within the United States but will also allude to some research produced in the United Kingdom.
Religion, delinquency, and criminality: some research evidence
William Kvaraceus, Assistant Superintendent of Schools of Passaic, New Jersey, reached back to the 1930s to studies which examined the relationship between religious training, beliefs, and behaviour. His own study comprised 761 delinquents (563 boys and 198 girls) referred to the Passaic Children's Bureau during a five year period before 1944. …