State prisons hold nearly 1.4 million inmates, the bulk of America’s convicted prisoners. Correctional authorities routinely release statistics on the age, sex, racial and ethnic composition of this population. But little information has been available to the public on religion in state prisons. A new survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains,” presents a rare window into religion behind bars from the vantage point of professional prison chaplains.

Pew Forum Senior Researchers Stephanie Boddie and Cary Funk, co-authors of the study, led a discussion on what chaplains say about the changing religious composition of the inmate population, the amount of proselytizing and conversion that takes place, how much religious extremism they perceive in the prisons, as well as their views of the effectiveness of rehabilitation and re-entry programs. John DiIulio, the first head of the Bush administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and an expert on the criminal justice system, offered his insights into the findings from a public policy perspective. And Tom O’Connor discussed the survey based on his own experience as a former Oregon prison chaplain and his extensive research on prisons.

video-iconWatch the video of the release event.

Stephanie Boddie, Senior Researcher, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Cary Funk, Senior Researcher, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
John DiIulio, Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania
Tom O’Connor, CEO, Transforming Corrections and former Research Manager, Oregon Department of Corrections

Alan Cooperman, Associate Director for Research, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

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ALAN COOPERMAN, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Good afternoon, everybody. For those of you in the room, thank you very much for coming. For those tuning in by webcast, thank you very much for tuning in. I’m Alan Cooperman; I’m the associate director for research here at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. We are here today to release the results of our new survey of prison chaplains across the United States.

The Pew Forum is part of the Pew Research Center, which is a non-advocacy organization. I hope that we’re going to have a vigorous policy debate here today after we’ve presented the results of the survey. But I want to emphasize that the Forum and the Pew Research Center do not take policy positions. So the debate is to be informed by the results of the survey, but you’ll not hear us talking about what we think should happen in prisons or what prison chaplains should be doing.

The fact that this survey occurred at all is a testament to the perseverance of Dr. Stephanie Boddie here to my right, a Pew Forum senior researcher who managed to cut through the red tape and corral all 50 states into participating in this survey. I remember when we were at 37 states, and then 39, and then 41, and it was creeping up. But I really never thought we would actually get to 50. But somehow Stephanie did it.

I can only say that if Stephanie were the whip in the House of Representatives, we would no longer have any gridlock in Washington. And soft-spoken though she may be, I don’t even want to think about what she might be able to do for the Washington Redskins.

We have an exceptional lineup of speakers here today. You have their bios in front of you, so I’m not going to go into detail on that. First up will be the co-authors of the study, Stephanie and Dr. Cary Funk, both senior researchers here at the Pew Forum. They’ll discuss the poll and a quick overview of the findings.

Then we’re going to turn to Professor John DiIulio from the University of Pennsylvania — as you know, the first director of the Bush administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. John’s going to speak about the policy, I think, implications of the survey. And I expect his remarks to be very incendiary because he tells me that immediately after speaking he’s going to get on a train and run out of town.

But, in fact, John has to leave a little early, so after he speaks we then will hear from Tom O’Connor, who brings a wealth of personal experience, having been a prison chaplain and research manager for the Oregon State Department of Corrections. So that’s our format. At the end I hope there will be time and we’ll have a vigorous conversation. Again, it’s great to have all of you here. I want to just remind you that this event is on the record and is being conveyed by live webcast. So with that, Stephanie, over to you.


STEPHANIE BODDIE, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Thank you, Alan, and good afternoon. The Pew Forum would like to thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation for their generous financial support for this survey. And we would especially like to thank Carole Thompson for her patient support for our efforts here. We’re delighted to have her here with us today. We would also like to thank the American Correctional Chaplains Association. We’d like to acknowledge that we have Chaplain Cordero here with us.

We’d like to also thank the survey’s panel of expert advisers, which includes our two distinguished panelists, John DiIulio and Tom O’Connor, as well as a few in the audience. We have Susan Van Baalen, Dean Trulear. And, of course, we greatly appreciate the participation of the 730 prison chaplains that we surveyed, who — I’m going to give you a quick overview of the goals of the study and describe the characteristics of the professional prison chaplains surveyed, who were — then I’ll turn it over to Cary, who will discuss some of the key findings.

So why did we study prison chaplains? We were interested in the roles that prison chaplains play and also the valuable lens they provide in the broader subject of religion in prisons. Chaplains sit at the intersection of two important trends that the United States — that sets the United States apart from other advanced, industrialized nations: one being that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the developed world. One in every 100 American adults is in prison. The other is that the U.S. is the most religious of the industrial democracies. Nearly six-in-ten American adults say that religion is important in their lives.

We at the Pew Forum think that there is a lot of public interest in religion in prisons. On the one hand, there is interest in whether religious programs potentially could do good in prisons by helping to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for the successful re-entry into the community. And on the other hand, there’s also concern about the potential harm that may be taking place through religious extremism or radicalism.

Yet despite all of that — despite the huge prison population, the country’s high religiosity, the public interest in what’s happening behind bars — there is relatively little hard data on religion in America’s prisons. Even basic information about the religious affiliation of inmates in prisons is not publicly available, much less hard data on rates of religious switching, requests for religious accommodation, indicators of religious extremism and so on. As a result, we decided to conduct a survey of prison chaplains and use it as a kind of window into religion in prisons, if you will.

It is important to emphasize that this is a survey of prison chaplains, who naturally bring their own perspectives and attitudes to bear. The chaplains are a lens through which we are seeing what’s happening in prisons. Professional chaplains are a valuable lens because they work in prisons, they have lots of contact with inmates and they care about the role of religion in the lives of inmates.

So about the survey: So who are the chaplains we surveyed? With the help of the American Correctional Chaplains Association and each state’s department of corrections, we compiled a database of all paid, professional prison chaplains and religious service coordinators in the 50 state prison systems across the country. The Pew Forum attempted to contact all 1,474 chaplains on the list, and 730 prison chaplains completed our survey last year using Web and paper questionnaires. This response rate is nearly 50%.

So as you can see here, most of the prison chaplains we surveyed are male, white and middle-aged, the average age being about 75.

UNIDENTIFIED: Fifty-seven.

BODDIE: Fifty-seven, sorry. (Laughter.) Sorry. They aged a little bit since we completed the study. (Laughter.) And in terms of the education of chaplains, chaplains are highly educated. About six-in-ten chaplains either hold a master’s degree or a doctorate. The vast majority, 90% of those with a graduate degree, specialized in religion or ministry-related field.

In terms of their religious affiliation, an overwhelming majority of the chaplains surveyed, as you can see — 85% are Christian. Forty-four percent identified themselves as evangelical Protestant; 13% Catholic; 7% are Muslim; and the remainder identify with other religions, Judaism and Native American spirituality. Most chaplains describe themselves as conservative on both social and political matters. And in terms of their theological leanings, they tend to be traditionalists.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Cary.


CARY FUNK, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Great, thank you. The only thing I have to remember is to click you forward every so often. If you are having trouble seeing the slides and you’re in the room, there is a copy of the slides in your folders. If you’re on the webcast, you have access to that. I’m going to run you through a few of the findings, just a small selection. This survey really covers a lot of ground, and we can’t address everything on the survey today. But if there are other areas of interest, we may be able to talk about it during question and answer.

What we’re seeing here is just starting off with some questions of the chaplains and their views about the correctional system. And overall I think you see fairly positive views about the system. Here are 61% of chaplains saying that the system where they work is working pretty well, with only minor changes needed.

And clicking forward — and then when you get more detail, you also see really pretty positive reactions of the chaplains to the system where they work, overwhelming majority saying the system is doing an excellent or good job at maintaining order and discipline among inmates; also, I think importantly, more than — about eight-in-ten saying the system where they work is doing an excellent or good job at meeting the religious needs of inmates.


Now, I mean, it’s difficult to know what you would expect on a survey like this. But it’s certainly not obvious that we would see such positive responses overall. Now, that’s true, but on the other hand, you know, it’s not like the chaplains weren’t willing to say something more critical here on the bottom row. You see where they are more negative about the system, about a 54% majority saying that the system where they work does an only fair or poor job at helping inmates prepare for re-entry, 45% saying they do an excellent or good job at that.

Then we asked a number of questions that go into more detail in their views about successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. And they were asked in this case to rate each of these things as absolutely critical, very important but not critical, somewhat important or not important, I believe. So you’re seeing that an overwhelming majority of chaplains say a number of different kinds of programs are critical for successful rehabilitation.

They are programs that include things going on in the prisons, as well as things after re-entry. They are programs that involve more secular programs, such as drug treatment programs, or they’re also, of course, things that are directly related to religion. So I’d draw your attention to the middle here, 73% of chaplains saying that access to quality religion-related programs while in prison is “absolutely critical” for successful rehabilitation, and 78% saying the same about support from religious groups after release.

Now, overwhelming majorities of chaplains are working in facilities that provide rehabilitation and re-entry programs. We find that 85% say the facility where they work has a secular-related rehabilitation program, 62% saying they have a religion-related rehabilitation program.

And what’s interesting about this is coming up: Among the prison chaplains who have these kinds of religion-related rehabilitation programs in their — those facilities — among those chaplains, 61% say that inmate usage of the programs has gone up over the past three years. Fifty-seven percent say that the quality of the religion-related rehabilitation program has gone up over the past three years.

Then I’m going to turn here to a series of questions that address the religious lives of inmates. So as we mentioned, there is really next to no empirical data about any aspect of inmates’ religious lives. So one of the contributions of this survey is coming from the kind of window that it can provide on religion in prisons. And this is something that from — obviously from the perspective of the prison chaplains. So I think the picture that we see overall is one of a dynamic environment, and one which differs in a number of ways from what you see in the general public.

The first thing I’m going to talk about here is attempts at conversion and how much that is actually going on. So we asked the chaplains to tell us how often inmates try to convert other inmates, about 75% saying that such attempts were very or somewhat common. And what is on this slide is saying that — chaplains’ judgments about how much switching is actually taking place. Now there’s — you can make an attempt, but it might not work. So 26% are saying that a lot of switching takes place, about half saying some does, and 22% saying not much or no switching goes on.

And then we followed that up with a number of questions to the chaplains: Well, you know, which groups are swelling or shrinking due to this kind of switching? So they rated each of 12 religious groups in this regard. And the chaplains were particularly likely to say that Muslims (51%) and Protestants (47%) were growing due to switching among inmates. Next, following up that would be 34% who said pagan and earth-based followers were growing due to switching.


Now of these 12 groups, for nine of them we see a majority saying that the size of the group is staying about the same due to switching. But for some groups you do see more chaplains saying that the group is shrinking rather than growing due to switching. So I’d call your attention to the two in the middle here: Catholics — 20% of chaplains responding say that Catholics are shrinking due to switching, compared with 14% saying that group is growing due to switching; and also the unaffiliated, inmates with no religious affiliation — chaplains more likely to say that group is shrinking due to switching than growing due to switching.

Now one thing that we know that I think is important to keep in mind from — and we know this from the open-ended responses that chaplains provided — is that some of this switching might be pretty short-lived. It’s not clear how strong the religious motivation is for some of these kinds of conversions. And I see some of our more-experienced folks nodding at that.

So chaplains’ comments are suggesting that inmates can be motivated by things that on the outside we might take for granted but on the inside have a lot more value — things like special food, special holidays. I think, as one chaplain put it, that they were privilege-based conversions, not religious-based conversions. So that’s something that we really don’t see in research — Pew Forum research with the general public. We see a lot of switching that goes on, but you don’t have that same sense that some of that is being driven by those kinds of privilege-based concerns.

I’m going to switch to some questions about religious extremism. We asked several questions on this topic, and just starting you off here with a rating that chaplains made about how common is it to encounter inmates with extreme religious views. We find that on the one hand, we see a 58% majority of chaplains saying that religious extremism among inmates is not too or not at all common. But at the same time, a sizeable minority — roughly 40, 41% — say extreme views are either very or somewhat common.

Now we of course don’t stop there. We asked the chaplains to follow that up and tell us about how common are extreme religious views among inmates of each of these 12 religious groups. And so what we find here is chaplains are particularly likely to say that extreme religious views among inmates are very or somewhat common among Muslims — 58% of chaplains say this. And to a substantial but lesser degree, chaplains also see religious extremism as very or somewhat common among inmates of pagan or earth-based religions, which is a kind of a diverse group — Asatru, Odinism and so on.


Chaplains were less likely to see religious extremism as common among other religious groups. But one thing you might be surprised to see is that third row, Protestants. About a quarter of chaplains say that religious extremism is very or somewhat common among Protestants, and that might be surprising because keep in mind that we’ve got 71% of the chaplains responding who are themselves Protestant, 44% calling themselves evangelical Protestant.

Then the other part of this is we asked chaplains whether extreme views are posing a threat to the security of the facility. And we find here an overwhelming majority of chaplains say that religious extremism really rarely poses a threat to security, 76% saying it poses a threat “not too often,” “rarely” or “almost never,” with only 4% saying it almost always does and 19% saying it sometimes does. So some people might find that reassuring. You know, on the one hand, we see a sizeable minority of chaplains saying that extreme religious views are very or somewhat common. And on the other hand, we’re seeing overwhelming majorities saying that such views are not too often, rarely or never posing a threat to the security of the facility.

And that, I think, really poses the question of what is going on here in terms of what is religious extremism among inmates, what can we say about that? And we’re very fortunate to have open-ended responses from the chaplains that can kind of help flesh this out a little bit for us. One of the most important things, I think, to keep in mind from those responses is that they have a number of different things in mind, and maybe not what you’re coming to the table thinking they would have in mind.

This is a summary of the open-ended responses where they varied in terms of the richness of detail and exactly what they said. And then we categorized that in terms of the themes or kinds of themes that they talked about, as well as the specific groups that they mention in connection with the kinds of religious extremism that they encounter among inmates. And we see two common themes that are talked about with almost equal frequency.

The first has to do with racial intolerance or other social group intolerance. So about 41% of the chaplains responding talked about this kind of social group intolerance. It could be black intolerance towards whites or white intolerance towards blacks. But I think what’s different here than what you might see a lot of times when we talk about religion in the general public is how tied these kinds of racial supremacy ideas are to religion, to the religious dogma.

The second kind of theme is really — I think of as kind of a flip side to that. It has to do with religious intolerance, religious exclusivity. And so about a similar number, about 40% of chaplains responding talked about religious exclusivity, things like basically my religion is the only way to salvation, any other faith is not — basically not accepted.

And then a number of other comments also came up. I mean, that’s not the only thing they talked about as an example of extreme religious views; a number of mentions of requests — specific requests for accommodation. We talked a little bit about this in terms of religious switching. Here sometimes those kinds of requests were seen as extreme by the chaplains. I think from the comments I’d say particularly when they’re seen as kind of disguised attempts to play the system for privileges, things that were really going too far. I think one of the most vivid examples of this kind of request was a request for raw meat for voodoo rituals. It’d be the kind of thing that they might see as extreme.

And then the chaplains also did mention a number of specific religious groups. The most frequently mentioned group was Muslims — 54% of chaplains responding said this. That includes 21% who specifically mention the Nation of Islam. And 34% of chaplains responding mentioned Christians either in connection with fundamentalist Protestants or specific Christian groups or maybe just Christian in general. And other groups were also mentioned. Sixteen percent talked about pagan or earth-based religions, and 12% mentioned Satanism.

Now as I said, this survey is covering a lot of ground. We don’t really have time to do it justice here. This is just a little teaser. Some of the other topics in the survey we would be happy to address in questions and answers. And with that, I’m going to turn it over to our moderator so that we can hear from our panelists and open it up to your thoughts and questions. Thank you.

COOPERMAN: Stephanie and Cary, that was great. Thank you. Thank you very much. Professor DiIulio.


JOHN DIIULIO, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be here. I want to thank Alan, and — I know he’s not here; he has other business — but my friend and colleague and brother, Luis Lugo. The Pew Forum on Religion does really a miraculous job of something that almost nobody else, I think, in this town or elsewhere does, which is bring to bear fact-based information about faith-based problems and initiatives. And it’s a remarkable thing to do, and you’ve done it again. So I praise you for that.

And it’s a special honor to be here with the authors of this obviously groundbreaking piece of survey research and representing a tremendous amount of very hard work. It’s a special personal treat to be here with Dr. Boddie, who I’ve known since her graduate days at the University of Pennsylvania, and to be here to bask in her reflective glory. And also wonderful to be here with Tom and to have an opportunity to be on this panel.

I’m sorry that I have to speak and run; I have my undergraduate mentor, who has also been my graduate school dean at Penn, who’s having his retirement ceremony and party today. So I have to dash off in order to make a train, and I’ll probably just about make it.

So let me begin. I think this is a very important and groundbreaking study, and I’m going to talk about it as a — wearing a social scientist’s hat for a bit. I won’t go on too long about that, about the research design and methods. I’ll speak a bit about the findings in relation to sort of the prison sociology and sociology of religion, and then say a few incendiary words, if possible, about the wider implications for public policy, religion, and church and state.

As we’ve heard — I want to hit this as hard as I can. I know that Tom’s going to hit it hard as well. I want to hit this as hard as I can. This is a very well-done survey, but it is a survey. And it’s a survey of 730 out of 1,474 state prison chaplains. That’s what it is. It’s the opinions of these individuals. It’s about opinion frequencies, not about empirical facts, OK? I mean, that’s obvious, but I can already see headlines being written where it won’t be so obvious that that’s what’s being argued here, that’s what’s being presented here.

And even with the relatively robust response rate — and it is quite a robust response rate for a survey this size and the detailed character of the questionnaire and of the questions being asked and all the site work, the survey has obvious and understandable limitations. Essentially, what you have is the opinions of 700 or so state prison chaplains, the modal respondent being a white, middle-aged, religiously and politically conservative, Protestant male, who is essentially expressing his opinion about everything from what’s growing or shrinking in the way of religion behind bars to what’s the security situation to percent of the chaplains saying extreme religious views.

And you’ve already heard from the authors how complex that notion is. That’s an idea in the mind of each and every respondent, different probably from each and every respondent, and different if you disaggregate the data and look at what the Muslim chaplain said versus what the modal chaplain respondent said.

So that’s all — that doesn’t make it a bad survey. It’s an excellent survey. But it’s very important to remember that we’re dealing here with a survey, a survey of opinion and opinion frequencies, OK? I mean, it’s not a perfect analogy, but if you wanted to know what’s happening in Ivy League schools with undergraduates, you could ask me. I’ve been around for 30 years. I can give you my opinions. I might think that economics is growing faster than biology. Or you might survey a group of Ivy League faculty and ask about course work or career options, and if the modal respondent was a liberal Democrat social scientist, you’d get what liberal Democrat social scientists think about that population. It wouldn’t necessarily be true, and so other work would be necessary.

And I think that, as is noted in the report, it would be wonderful were it implied in the report — I’ll put words into your mouth — it’ll be wonderful if the U.S. Department of Justice would — the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is, I think, the — one of the greatest little — the little–engine-that-could statistical agency of the federal government, were to include some religious items on its survey so that it could survey inmates and that it also could follow up in the great tradition. It’d be nice, too, if the Bureau of Prisons participated the next time around, following that 80-year tradition of inviting research inside and out that they have.

So that much duly acknowledged, let me say there is one area where the chaplains’ majority opinions definitely reflect what we know from the empirical research literature and that has to do with security. Back when they passed these two laws in ’93 and 2000 expanding religious freedom behind bars, there was a lot of concern and consternation even that these new religious protections for incarcerated citizens were going to lead to prison violence and difficulty.

But if you look at the literature, including work by Bert Useem, a Purdue sociologist, and Anne Piehl, who is a Rutgers economist and criminal justice scholar, their 2008 book “Prison State” and much other literature, actually violence has gone way down behind bars. In fact, it’s gone down farther and faster than it has in society at large over the past 15 years, coincidentally with — whether causally connected or not, I have no idea — but coincidentally with the implementation of those two religious freedom laws. There at least we know that the perceptions of the majority of the chaplains are correct.

Let me turn now — briefly say a word about the prison sociology and the sociology of religion here. There was a great sociologist — the last great sociologist at Princeton, Gresham Sykes, who in 1951 wrote a book called “The Society of Captives.” And the burden of that book was to suggest that while prison society is never a microcosm of the wider society, the things that are stirring about in the society at large often do find their way and are represented behind bars.

That is definitely the case if these chaplains are correct in their perceptions with respect to religion because if you go back to a work that I know Pew has had a lot to do with, the recent book — the 2010 book by Harvard’s Bob Putnam and his colleague at the University of Notre Dame, David Campbell, “American Grace,” and look at what they say about the religiosity of Americans as well as the fluidity and the dynamism and the switching that’s going on in American religion today, you see a lot of that behind bars, if indeed the chaplains’ perceptions of what’s going on are correct. So to that extent at least, Gresham Sykes is once again validated.

Let me finally turn quickly to say a few words about the wider policy implications. You know, our Constitution protects the religious freedom of all citizens, including incarcerated citizens. And the Founding Father who was most responsible for the Constitution, James Madison, worried about religion. In his famous “Federalist No. 10,” he said a zeal for different opinions concerning religion is the primary or a primary cause of factions that destroy public comity and are contrary to the public interest.

But in “Federalist Paper No. 51,” he goes on to talk about the importance of the multiplicity of sects, really the need for government to support and sustain religious pluralism wherever it can find it as really the key to promoting a stable, godly republic. And that is multiplicity of sects, S-E-C-T-S. I had a — I gave an American government exam once where I asked about Madison’s views in “Federalist 51” on religion, and the student wrote: Madison wants everybody to have lots of sex, S-E-X. So not quite right — half credit.

It is interesting to note that this study is 1,474 people who work as chaplains. These are paid individuals. But they are surrounded by thousands and thousands and thousands of people who volunteer. I see so many friends in the audience. I’m not going to call anybody out, but I know Dr. Frazier is here and others and people who have done research on this. This study very much is in the tradition of studies which show that whether you’re talking about criminal justice administration or welfare-to-work or homeless shelters or housing, there is absolutely no way to get past the reality that so much of what government does is, in fact, administered through religious-secular public-private partnerships.

You may like it; you may not like it. You may have different views about how it ought to be done and whose insurance ought to be covered how? But it’s happening; it’s there — a third of all daycare, a quarter of all welfare-to-work programs, and I don’t know what fraction it would be of prison services or services for the children, youth and families of prisoners and recent parolees.

It is therefore extremely important that we understand more about the role of those people of faith, whether paid or volunteers, who are leveraging so much of this work, not only behind bars but with respect to what is quite arguably the single biggest criminal justice challenge facing the country today, which is how to integrate and reintegrate the over 600,000-700,000 persons a year who are exiting our prisons, the over 6 million who’ve come out in just the last 10 years.

If there’s some way to lift up and support these public-private religious-secular partnerships, both in terms of prison ministry, work behind bars, pre-release programs, prisoner re-entry programs like — I’ll just call out one — the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, which has lots of faith-based participation, that would be a very important thing. The place to look for guidance and advice — one of the primary places to look — would be to these prison chaplains, who know it up close and personal. So let me stop there. Thank you.

COOPERMAN: Wow. John, that was terrific. Thank you very much. Thank you also for all the support you’ve shown for the Pew Forum over the years.

Tom O’Connor, CEO of Transforming Corrections, former research manager in the Oregon Department of Corrections and himself, a former prison chaplain. So Tom, what does it look like on the ground?


TOM O’CONNOR, TRANSFORMING CORRECTIONS: Well, thanks everybody, and welcome to everybody on the webcast as well. And I would like to begin with a word of thanks, too, just on behalf of prison chaplains and all the volunteers working in corrections across the country to Stephanie — to Dr. Boddie — and to the Pew and to the funders for this report because you’ve done what you usually do best. What you do is you do this great study, you find out about something that’s usually invisible and you make it visible.

So here we have this huge amount of work that’s going on in the prison system, really nobody knows about it — it’s going on. It’s invisible. You’ve made it visible. So thank you very much for that. It’s a great service to chaplains and volunteers around the country. Thanks, Stephanie.

Working in corrections is a dangerous business. You know, you’ve got people who are violent and people who steal and people who do bad things to people and hurt people. And you don’t want that to keep continuing. So it’s very important that you get corrections correct and that you get it right. So what we want to look at today is this role of prison chaplains and, as Dr. DiIulio said, volunteers — all the volunteers that the chaplains coordinate and work with, have they a role in getting it right in corrections?

Just to give you an image just to begin with: What’s this thing called a prison chaplain? So let me give you a story about a prison chaplain, and her name is Kelly. And what does Kelly look like? Well, she’s educated. She got her masters in divinity from Harvard. And she is satisfied with her job, like these prison chaplains. She’s very happy in the work that she’s doing. And she’s white, and she’s from the United Methodist tradition. And she’s very gifted and skilled in working with people.

So she’s walking around the prison where she works; it’s a maximum security prison in Salem, Ore. And there’s 2,400 men in that prison for all sorts of things. It includes a death row. So what Kelly does around — when she comes to work, she’s happy in her work, and she’s kind of bright and she’s very gifted, as I said, with talking with people. So she’s working with staff; she’s interacting with staff in the death row and the segregation unit, in the chapel, in the education unit, on the floor, in the rec room — all over the prison you’ll find Kelly.

And as she’s going around, she’s talking with — like the chaplains in this study, they say they have a huge amount of contact with the inmates. There’s a huge amount of personal contact going on with the inmates. So Kelly might have a conversation with John, who is trying to make sense of the world. He might be in prison for a long time; maybe he’s committed a murder.

And John is just trying to make sense of the world and how does he cope with this life sentence that he’s got in prison. And his way of making sense out of that is through education, something like that. He’s not particularly religious. He’s not spiritual. He has what you might call a humanist way of making meaning. So he approaches things from humanity. And that’s what Kelly works with to support that and work with that.

Then Kelly might work with Frank. And Frank is not religious either, but he’s not humanist. He’s much more spiritual. So Frank might like to go to the Native American sweat lodge. And he likes to sweat in there because he has traditions and links to the Native American heritage. And Kelly will support that spirituality. It’s a way of life. It’s not a religion as such, but it’s a definite spirituality. And then she’ll work with Brian. And Brian is religious. And Patty and Sean, and they’re religious. And Patty is a Catholic, and Sean is a Muslim, and Barry is a Buddhist.

So you have this amazing diversity going on in prisons. And you’ve got all these different ways of making meaning. You’ve got humanist, spiritual and religious ways of making meaning. And that’s what chaplains are good at because they’re trained — and we’ve learned from this study that not only are they educated, but they’re trained in clinical pastoral education, the best source of training that we know to help people go beyond their own tradition and help people from wherever they’re coming from to grow in making meaning.

Now, the question about that, making meaning, does that add anything to corrections? Is that anything to do with evidenced-based? We want to get corrections right. So we want — what we’re looking for is a more compassionate, more effective and less caustic prison system. So does Kelly’s work with those three men have anything to add to that?

Well, it turns out that the American Psychological Association did a study — a meta-analysis no doubt, not just one study. But they looked at a whole bunch of studies to see what happens when psychologists and therapists pay attention to a person’s way of making meaning in their therapy. Even if this psychologist is an atheist and works with somebody who’s religious in therapy, and brings that religious background into that therapy, what happens is you get better psychological outcomes and you get better spiritual outcomes.

So the APA has named it an evidence-based practice for therapists to reach out into the person’s way of making meaning — whatever it is, humanist, spiritual or religious — and bring that into therapy. So this is what the chaplains are doing. They’re reaching out and they’re bringing that into the correctional process. And as Dr. DiIulio said, there’s no one better able to do that than the chaplains. And we know from other research, the research of Todd Clear, when he looked at religion in prisons, what he did find was that this way of making meaning helps people to cope psychologically in prison. So people are more adjusted in prison, psychologically, when they engage with some way of making a meaning.

When I was working as a prison chaplain, I didn’t care what you believed. I just wanted you to believe something. Don’t believe nothing. Don’t be floating around. Take — put your stake in the ground and move somewhere, and I will move with you. That’s what we wanted them to do because we wanted them to get back on the train of desistance. And the desistance literature is a whole literature now about — we know a lot about what gets people into crime, but what gets people out of crime? This way of making meaning is one of the things that gets people out of crime, and we’re learning that from the desistance literature.

So this huge amount of contact that the chaplains are having with prisoners, how are they doing that? The only way they’re doing that, as Dr. DiIulio mentioned, is through the use of volunteers — working with volunteers. So in one study in Oregon — Oregon is a small state. It has 3 ½ million people. In the prison system — just the state prison system alone — they have 2,200 active volunteers. They come from humanist, spiritual and religious traditions, and the chaplains are managing that whole thing. They’re working with all of these volunteers.

Those volunteers in one year give 400,000 hours of service to the prison — over 400,000 hours of service. That’s the equivalent of 194 full-time positions in the department. It would cost the department $13.2 million to pay 194 people for a year’s work. They’re getting that for free from the volunteers — not quite for free because you need people to manage it and support it and train it. And that’s what the chaplains are doing because they’re reaching across all of these different diverse backgrounds. So that’s an important thing.

What impact does this work that the chaplains are doing — are people using it? Again, in that study in Oregon, what we found was in the first year of their incarceration — listen to this — 71% of the men who came into the prison, during their first year, had some direct, voluntary contact with one of these services that the chaplains were organizing with the volunteers — 71% of the men in their first year.

What about the women? Ninety-five percent of the women engaged during their first year voluntarily with these different ways of making meaning. So you have got — what you’re revealing in this Pew study is — this is what you’re revealing. You’re putting it on the table, saying: My gosh, look what’s going on. And it’s the prison chaplains that are involved in doing this.

The other thing that was really encouraging to me in the report was that over 60% of the chaplains said that they had re-entry efforts going on. Dr. DiIulio mentioned that. That’s the biggest thing that’s going on in criminal justice. Everybody’s coming home. Ninety-five percent of people are coming home.

So we hear from the chaplains that over 60% of them are involved in re-entry efforts. And Kelly is also a chaplain who’s involved in the re-entry efforts. Kelly has a whole cadre of volunteers that she meets with every month. And she arranges on the outside of the prison, not on the inside of the prison — these are re-entry volunteers so that when people get involved in the religious programs, there’s a handoff, and they go out into the community, and they’re paired with mentors. So that whole re-entry work is going on as well.

In Canada, just as a quick example, the CoSA program — Circles of Support and Accountability — it’s a group of four or five volunteers in the community working with very high-risk sex offenders coming out. These are sex offenders who have a 90-100% chance of recidivism — only high-risk sex offenders. These are community volunteers who get around them and work with them. And they work with the parole officers; they work with the police and the prison people.

And listen to this, in a recent study — that’s a top of the line study — 71% reductions in all offenses compared to a control group, who did not get this kind of help on the outside, and an 83% reduction in sexual offenses. This is a group of volunteers working with high-risk people. So the power of this is extraordinary. And again, that came out of the chaplaincy division in Canada.

The Ready for Work program here — the federal program that was supported, I think, with the Second Chance Act — found similar things. People who had a mentor were twice as likely to get a job when they got outside in the community. So this re-entry work that the chaplains are doing is kind of crucial; it’s kind of extraordinary.

There’s also, I noted, a prophetic element in the report. You know, the typical chaplain is religiously, socially and theologically conservative. And they’re kind of older, right? But yet, 39% of them said the system needs major changes [or needs to be completely rebuilt]. That’s quite a big percentage — “major changes,” they said. And these were the kind of things they’re talking about. Ninety-two percent of them said, we support earned time. If people earn time in prison by behaving well and showing that they can be pro-social, and if they earn time by completing treatment and doing good work in prison, we think they should be let out early and we should save some money that way.

But we don’t think that you should be cutting jobs and cutting programs in prison to save money. And what are we doing? We’re cutting jobs and we’re cutting programs in prisons to save money, and we’re not doing that earned time. We could do so much more to make the system more effective and more compassionate and less costly. And if we listened to the chaplains, I think they have some ideas about how to do that.

Finally, let me come to this issue of extremism. Well, my goodness, the chaplains, they say, you know what? Some of the people that we work with have extremist views. And what do they say those kind of views are? Yes, some of them are racist. They’re kind of white supremacist or they’re kind of exclusively religious — they want to say we’re the ones who have it, you don’t have it. So they’re not saying that the people are terrorists or they’re not saying that politically they’re kind of plotting with a bomb. There’s no Guy Fawkes in this research, right?

But there is antisocial thinking going on. Racism, bad attitudes about women — these are the things that are causing crime. So why would you not get antisocial thinking in a prison, right? These people are in prison because they do have antisocial ways of acting and thinking. And we know that the biggest predictor of recidivism is not a substance abuse problem. There’s two biggest predictors of recidivism: antisocial thinking and antisocial companions. So when you find that going on in the prisons, we better be grateful that there are volunteers who are not antisocial in their thinking and there are chaplains who are not antisocial in their thinking engaging with these people because that’s what pulls them away from the very thing that is leading them to crime.

One quick example on that, we had a group of people in the Oregon system who wanted to be involved in Odinist services. So this is a group that tend to be of the white supremacist point of view, and we knew that they were involved in that. So we brought a volunteer from the outside in who was an Odinist, into the prison, and he worked with them. And he was tremendous to volunteer. He said, yeah, look, there’s some stuff like that in our background. We’re from the white Nordic races, but we’re not about racism. And so he worked with the inmates, and they moved away from racism. So that’s the way to kind of work with this problem that’s going on in the prison.

We need a more effective, a more compassionate and a less costly criminal justice system. Your report, I think, is helping us to get there. Thank you very much.

COOPERMAN: Wow. Again, terrific, Tom. Thank you. Thank you very much. Let’s open this up. A few quick points: If you want to speak, raise your hand and keep your hand up for a moment until I have a chance to acknowledge you. I’ll keep a kind of running list. Wait for the microphone to be brought to you and then please identify yourself and the organization that you’re with. Let’s start with Adelle.


ADELLE BANKS, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Hi, my name is Adelle Banks. I work for Religion News Service. I was wondering, actually following up on what Tom O’Connor was just speaking about, about whether there is some kind of link between the mention of extremism mostly cited among Muslims and those from pagan and earth religions and the fact that those two groups, I think, were listed highest in the study related to being underserved by volunteers.

COOPERMAN: Dr. Funk, do you want to say something perhaps about what the survey showed about volunteers and maybe segue from there to extremism?

FUNK: Sure. I don’t know about the segue, but Tom — I guess what I saw in terms of — we asked the chaplains just a couple of questions about whether they need more volunteers from different religions, and of course a majority say, yes, they do need more volunteers. That won’t surprise you after hearing what Tom O’Connor just said.

But what was really striking was how many of what, in the general public, are very, very small religious groups — usually less than 1% of the general public is Asatru or Wicca or Odinist or Muslim or a number of other groups. But in their responses of the religious groups they need, it was just so striking how many of these other groups were mentioned. And so I took that as evidence of really — of the religious pluralism that’s going on in the inmate population, that groups that are very small in the general population are just more visible in the inmate population. So that’s where the greatest need is.

I think the flip side of that in terms of where do they have enough volunteers — there are more volunteers that are Christian or Protestant or some other Christian group, and so those needs are easier to meet. And when you have a larger group of inmates of these small — otherwise small religions, they’re having a harder time meeting that.

COOPERMAN: Stephanie, did you want to add anything? I think there are — in fact the chaplains indicated that they have too many volunteers from some groups.

BODDIE: Right, exactly. They do indicate that they have too many volunteers from religious groups. I think another thing that some of the chaplains also indicated that — there was one quote in particular that I think is very informative. One chaplain mentioned that he had been working for the prison system for 15 years, and over that 15-year period, chaplaincy has grown very complex over the years with the explosion of multiple religions.

So at least for this one chaplain, it seems that this is a relatively new occurrence that there are all of these religions, that possibly 20 years ago, if you had gone and done a survey of this time, perhaps this chaplain might be suggesting that his prison could have looked different.

So if you think that there’s an explosion of multiple religions in prisons, we also know from our other Pew research that there is more religious pluralism in the U.S. population. But it may be going in a different direction in some of the religious groups. For example, the unaffiliated is growing in the general population but is decreasing in the prison population.

We also have 1% of Muslims in the general population, but in some of the prisons we had as high as 20%, and in some prisons they had 0%. So I think we need to look at the trends that are happening in the general public as we look at what the chaplains are saying about their particular context in terms of the religious affiliations.

COOPERMAN: Sally Quinn.


SALLY QUINN, THE WASHINGTON POST’S ON FAITH: I was noticing that Muslim chaplains make up about 7%. And yet the number of Muslims is growing faster than any other population, and the number of Muslim extremists are growing faster than any other population. And I wondered if that would mean that they were trying to bring in more Muslim chaplains to work with the Muslim population.

Also, in terms of the Muslim population, how much of that is Black Muslims, which is a whole different sect, and Muslims who were possibly born in another country or born in this country of Muslim parentage? And also, I’m sorry, I just would love to know what a pagan, earth-based riot would look like among the extremists.

COOPERMAN: Well, let’s see. Maybe Tom would like to say something about how difficult is it to get Muslim chaplains into the prisons, and is this something that state correctional authorities are trying to deal with?

O’CONNOR: Yeah, that’s a great question, and the first question too is a great question. Is there a link between extremist or antisocial because really what we’re talking about here is antisocial thinking — it’s against other people — and less volunteers and the rest. So you bring people in from the community. If you put people away and you have no interaction with them, they can kind of get away in their thinking, and they do get away in their thinking. So you really need to engage. So when you engage, then people’s ideas start changing.

The other thing is — just to mention a couple of things. The other issue that’s going on here is, the race issue is very important with Muslims, so — because in some places, it’s mainly African-Americans who are gravitating towards Islam, right? So you’ve got two factors going on. You’ve got a place where people who are African-American — and the Pew research has shown the disproportionate treatment of African-Americans throughout the system. So here’s — you’ve got a place — now are they going to go in and sing hymns in a Catholic service? They’re not. They need a place to kind of express their meaning, and this is providing it.

So you’ve also got a breakdown — I think the report did say Muslim, but it included Nation of Islam and Moorish Science Temple within Islam. I think that’s kind of problematic. So you need to separate that out because when you listen to the chaplains’ comments as well, a lot of them — 21% — said it was Nation of Islam. And that’s clearly where the racial issue is going on. That’s a big factor.

There’s another factor going on here, too. I’m not so comfortable with earth-based pagan and putting Asatru and Odinism and Wiccan and all those in that group. That’s a little bit too much of a mishmash for me because I’ve never come across a racially-superior-inclined Wiccan. You know, I’ve come across Wiccans who love nature and love water and love trees. But when you talk about Christian identity, yeah — there is a particular strand of thing going on.

So the other final point about Muslim chaplains, yes, look, I was heartened. Seven percent are Muslim — wow, that’s really — that’s something. It’s not 2%; it’s not 1 — 7%; that’s just great. But Muslims and Islam, they don’t have a tradition of chaplaincy. So the Hartford Seminary now has this fantastic training program. It’s an interfaith, multicultural, multireligious training program for chaplains.

A chaplain is not a minister, is not a priest, is not a rabbi. Priests, rabbis, ministers minister to their own flock. Chaplains deal with humanists, people who are spiritual, people who are religious. And it’s a different set of skills, and it’s a different type of training. So more and more, Islam is producing chaplains in America because we desperately do need more of them. But that is the bottom line.

COOPERMAN: Cary, did you have something you wanted to add?

FUNK: Yeah. Let me just comment. You raised an important point about the nature of our questions and something that we struggled with quite a bit. When we asked the chaplains to do something like rate something across religious groups of inmates, we worked it down to just 12 categories. But 12 categories is a lot, OK? So it did entail something of a compromise across — you know, it would be desirable to break out every religious group, but it just wasn’t feasible.

So the compromise has to do with — when we talked about rating Muslims, we specified for the chaplains that that would include Nation of Islam and Moorish Science Temple of America. When we talked about — I think there was — when we talked about pagan and earth-based religions, we gave some examples. When we talked about other Christian groups, we gave some examples. So that is clearly a compromise and a trade-off. It’s not ideal.

When we had an open-ended question where we could capture specific responses, we did so. And so then when you saw in terms of what kinds of extremist views do you encounter among inmates, a net of 54% saying Muslim, underneath that is some 33% saying Muslim or Islamic radicalism or Salafi teachings, but really a pretty common response just saying Muslim, and then 21% saying Nation of Islam specifically. So to the extent that we could, we did distinguish among these.



CAROLE THOMPSON, ANNIE E. CASEY FOUNDATION: I wanted to follow up on the question about exactly how you broke out Muslim. Almost like you’re licking an ice cream cone. So when you — because there seems to be data in some parts that gives distinction between Protestants — mainline, evangelical — even, I see, you have some information on Mormons. When you got to Muslims, when you say it was included — the definitions — did you say Muslims, including Nation of Islam, Sunni, Shia, and not give people an opportunity to break it out?

FUNK: Yeah, if — so the survey was completed either by Web or by paper. So you’re trying to convey all the instructions they need in this print. And so they’re asked to rate each of 12 religious groups, and each one is described briefly. So I think when it came to Muslims, it says Muslims and then in parentheses it says, including Nation of Islam and Moorish Science Temple of America. So it doesn’t include those other types.

THOMPSON: But when you did Protestant, you did Baptist, pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist?

FUNK: I don’t think so. Let’s just check that out.

THOMPSON: I’m looking on page 83. But I think there is a bias there, is my point.

FUNK: Oh, I see.

THOMPSON: And I also think that that needs to be clarified because even in other countries Shia and Sunni don’t get along. And, you know, some Muslims consider Nation of Islam a splinter group. And I just wonder how informed the prison chaplains in their own education were about the religion of Islam, whether in their own thinking they group it all together or whether they were knowledgeable enough to break it out.

COOPERMAN: I don’t think we know the answer to that.


COOPERMAN: I want to move to a question —

THOMPSON: I’ve got another question or comment.

COOPERMAN: Briefly, please, because we are trying to — we have a limited time for the webcast, and I do want to include other people. Please.

THOMPSON: I understand. On religious extremism, was that your word? Was that word defined, extremism? I obviously prefer Tom’s use of antisocial, but what were you, when you asked about extremism, trying to get at?

FUNK: I mean, I think you’re raising a number of questions that are very difficult. They’re difficult questions that face us when we’re trying to design a questionnaire. So these are important points. In terms of the exact question wording, I don’t have time to go over every question. But in the back of the spiral-bound report and towards the back of the Web version of the report is a topline report that shows you the question wording so that you can go through and make your own judgments.

In terms of religious extremism, we used a couple of different phrases. But I think — but that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to ask that open-ended question: What do you have in mind when you’re thinking about extreme religious views? What’s the kind of extreme religious views that you encounter among inmates? So that allows the respondents to put in their own words what they’re thinking about.

COOPERMAN: So the exact phrase was “extreme religious views.” And then there was a follow-up question inviting the chaplains to specify in their own words. And they were able to say whatever they wanted and at whatever length they wanted. We then did the best we could to categorize those in various ways. And some of that data is summarized in the slide here.

Yes, down in the far end. You’ve been very patient.


MICHAEL GRYBOSKI, THE CHRISTIAN POST: Yeah, my name is Michael Gryboski. I’m with The Christian Post. I also have a question along the lines of the religious extremism category. I noticed that you pointed out that 41% of the pastors surveyed said they believed extremism was somewhat or very common, and yet about 76% say religious extremism is rarely or almost never a security threat. I was wondering, why did they say that it wasn’t — even if they considered it extremist, why they didn’t think of it as a security threat. And does this have to do with kind of the broad definition, the many components, of what was considered extremist?

FUNK: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know that I can truly answer it because we can only take at face value what did the chaplains tell us. So they don’t tell us why they don’t see it as a security threat. But I think that you’re onto a likely explanation in terms of what are they thinking, and then they’re thinking about it in the context of the facility where they work, and they’re saying that overall it rarely, not too often, poses such a threat.

COOPERMAN: I think Tom wanted to get in, and then I think we have time for one more question.

O’CONNOR: Yeah, because it’s a great question. To think about it here, you’re talking about prisons, and you’re talking about prisons now that over the last 30 years, despite enormous increases in population, have learned how to work with people to reduce violence in prison. So population going up, violence is not going up; we’re able to manage it. So we’re able to work with people who have antisocial thinking. And we see it all the time, and, in fact, it’s our job. And it’s not a security threat because it’s just what goes on in the prison, and it’s fine. And that’s exactly what we work with, and we know how to work with it. So that’s the way it is.

Now the thing is, you need to engage with it. So when you hear the chaplains saying, we would like people who behave well and who are not antisocial, who are not extreme in their views on — it’s OK to kick somebody if he looks at your girlfriend, you know — we would like those people, if they complete treatment to be able to earn time. They earn their time so they get out of prison. Leave us with the antisocial people who are not ready to get out yet, and let us work with them. But don’t cut our resources, so we can work with them. And I think that’s the thing. Yes, we have extreme views, antisocial views. Are we worried about it? No. Do we know what to do about it? Yes.

COOPERMAN: Pat, please.


PATRICIA ZAPOR, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE: Pat Zapor with Catholic News Service. I see on page 48 and 49 you break out a lot of the data and explanations for the religious affiliation. And I understand that prisons, if they keep it, they don’t share that. But does nobody keep information you could compare with about who commits crimes by religion?

Is there any kind of a data breakout like that that would kind of tell you — because the proportions, as you — as this indicates, are not — they’re not reflective of the population, what religion people practice. But they are a little more reflective of who the chaplains are. So I wonder if the chaplains were just projecting their own experience.

The other question, somewhat related: Do you have any sense for why the chaplains you surveyed — how they decided [that, for example,] 40% of the people were Christian — of the inmates [at the facility where they work] were Christian? Was it based on who people hang out with, who comes and seeks their services?

FUNK: This is a good question and a hard question to answer. So one of the things we asked chaplains was essentially to fill out a pie chart of the religious affiliation of all the inmates. And this is a very difficult task. The main reason we wanted to ask it was to get a sense of the context — the religious context — in which they’re working. It’s not a good indicator of what is the religious breakdown of inmates. You might be tempted to do that, but don’t go there.

We were able to find a report a few years ago from a government agency, and we have the footnote there, which hopefully has the link that you can get to it. So data from 2007 among federal inmates — 66% were Christian, 9% Muslim; other big ones — 3.8% Native American spirituality. So there is that as a benchmark. And then in that same report —

COOPERMAN: Which is pretty close —

FUNK: Right, which is —

COOPERMAN: — to — it’s in the ballpark with what the chaplains are telling us.

FUNK: Right, and it gives that sense —

COOPERMAN: But that’s for federal prisons.

FUNK: — and it gives that sense that if you aren’t over-expecting, over-analyzing these numbers, what the overall makeup looks like. That same report has data from six different state facilities in five states. And so I think — and it gives a similar portrait on average. About 77% of those facilities, Christian inmates; 7.5% Muslim; 3.4% Native American; and there I will mention 2.7% categorized here as pagan. So that just gives you a sense of what it might be.

COOPERMAN: But that to our knowledge is the best data that’s available on state prisons. And that’s a subset of six prisons; that’s not — it’s not very large or dispositive either. It’s why we said at the beginning, we don’t really know what the affiliation of inmates in the state prisons, which is the bulk of the U.S. prison population — what their religious affiliation is. Nor do we have ideal data on what rates of switching are, on requests for accommodation, on extremism or antisocial views, however you want to define it.

And I’ll make one last point, that in the Pew Forum we constantly deal with the issue of how to categorize religious groups. Since one of our main mechanisms is surveys, we — our default tends to be self-identification. And so in general if people consider themselves to be Christians, we call them Christians, even if some other folks might not.

So for example, Mormons in our categorization do fall into the “other Christian” category, even if, as we know, many Christians do not consider Mormons to be Christian. Similarly, groups that consider themselves to be Muslim we call Muslim, even if other groups might not. So Ahmadiyya in our surveys are categorized as Muslim. Nation of Islam is categorized as Muslim in general. And this is across the board with all the religious groups.

When it’s possible in our surveys, we break them out. In this case we did not ask for breakouts of the percentages from the chaplains for potentially hundreds of different groups. And on page 83 where we list some of the potential breakouts, those are examples. We did not actually ask the chaplains to list those. So maybe there’s a little misunderstanding or misreading of what that is. Those are just examples.

With that, thank you very much, all of you, for coming. And I would like again to thank Stephanie Boddie and Cary Funk and Tom O’Connor and John DiIulio. What a terrific panel.

This transcript was edited by Amy Stern for clarity, accuracy and grammar.