Huffington Post says:

Prisons would also become major centers for Islamic outreach. Today, prison officials, prison chaplains and scholars claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion behind bars. Although there are no reliable statistics, estimates suggest that 35,000-40,000 inmates convert to Islam each year, and nationwide, it is estimated that 15 percent of the U.S. prison population is Muslim, or as much as 350,000 current Muslim inmates.

When I searched for the stats, I came across the Wikipedia page about Islam in the United States which says:

In addition to immigration, the state, federal and local prisons of the United States may be a contributor to the growth of Islam in the country. J. Michael Waller claims that Muslim inmates comprise 17–20% of the prison population, or roughly 350,000 inmates in 2003. Waller states that these inmates mostly come into prison as non-Muslims. He also claims that 80% of the prisoners who "find faith" while in prison convert to Islam.

The source cited for the above claim is either dead or not accessible due to some unknown reason. (shows me a white blank page)

Is 15 percent of the U.S. prison population Muslim? Is J. Michael Waller's claim reliable?

  • For J. Michael Waller's testimony see this link judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/…
    – DavePhD
    Jan 18, 2017 at 19:20
  • "In New York State, it's estimated that between 17 and 20 percent of all inmates are Muslims - a number that experts say holds nationally."" I don't know who the hell edited that wiki page but whoever he is, he isn't quite smart. Jan 18, 2017 at 19:31
  • 2
    See Religion in Prisons – A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains. " On average, the chaplains surveyed say that Muslims make up 9% of the inmates in the prisons where they work, with half of the chaplains saying that Muslims comprise 5% or less of the inmate population and half saying that Muslim inmates make up more than 5% of the inmates where they work."
    – ff524
    Jan 18, 2017 at 19:39
  • 3
    .. but that "It should be noted, however, that these findings cannot be used to reliably estimate the religious affiliation of the U.S. prison population. They provide only an impressionistic portrait of the religious environment in which chaplains work."
    – ff524
    Jan 18, 2017 at 19:40
  • 1
    @DavePhD Ah ha, that just proves me right. I have updated the wiki page. Jan 18, 2017 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


The statistics in the OP about 350,000 Muslim prisoners and about the number added each year originate from a 2001 article by Siraj Islam Mufti titled "Islam in American Prisons".

It is cited in the journal article Muslims in Prison: A Case Study from Ohio State Prisons 2004.

Mufti has a PhD in philosophy from University of Arizona. He became a chaplain for federal prisons in 1995.

His article, states:

Currently, there are approximately 350,000 Muslims in Federal, state and local prisons - with 30,000-40,000 being added to that number each year. These inmates mostly came into prison as non-Muslims

"Currently" means 1999-2000 according to the 2004 citing article.

As of 30 June 1999 there were 1,860,520 prisoners in the US, so 350,000 would have been 19%.

The 2004 article also says:

Although Ohio prisons do not have the numbers of Muslim inmates found in states such as New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, according to Miller (1999), Muslims constitute about 20% of the incarcerated population in these states, making the administrators and chaplains very familiar with Islam.


A great article on the topic was publish by 538 dot com here

That article gives the number of Muslims to be 8.4% of prison population. That number is based on a 2103 FOI request to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The 538 article also uses refers to a 2012 Pew Research Center 50-state survey of prison chaplains which seems to indicate that most of them think that the number of Muslims in prison is growing but I can't find any data to support the claim that 80% of people who "find God" in prison choose Islam.

The 538 article suggest a different explanation - race. Muslims are twice more likely to be African-American, and African-Americans make up 36% of prison population and only 13% of US population at large.

  • I think the 538 article means that the 2008 census bureau data was used to get general population data to compare to 2013 Federal prisoner data.
    – DavePhD
    Jan 19, 2017 at 16:33
  • @DavePhD I think you are right. I misread the article. will fix.
    – ventsyv
    Jan 19, 2017 at 16:36
  • 2
    8.4% of the Federal prisoners, which are only about 10% of all prisoners.
    – DavePhD
    Jan 19, 2017 at 16:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .