No. XVIII (1992)

The Attitudes of Wards of Reformatories Towards Religion

Published 1992-08-19


  • juveniles,
  • youth detention center,
  • religion,
  • survey

How to Cite

Lorek, Z. (1992). The Attitudes of Wards of Reformatories Towards Religion. Archives of Criminology, (XVIII), 169–182.


Religious services were introduced to reformatories and hostels for detained juveniles by force of an ordinance of Minister of Justice of September 10, 1981 on religious practices and services in reformatories and hostels for detained juveniles  (Official Gazette of the Ministry of Justice No 5, item 24). ln 1990, a study of 200 wards of 6 reformatories was carried out which concerned their attitude towards religion. A specially constructed questionnaire was used; besides, the study involved observation and interviews with the wards and staff. The findings show first of all the attitudes towards religion as declared by the respondents.

The largest group in the sample of 200 juveniles were those aged 15–19 (86% of the sample). Those going to elementary school constituted 61,5%. Nearly a half of respondents had been confined to a variety of readjustment centers for at least two years. The families of most boys (85%) belonged to working classes. Every second respondent followed the norms of delinquent and prison subculture  (i.e. was member of a group called git-ludzie).

The questionnaire survey made it possible to divide the sample into three subgroups: those who declared themselves practising believers (43%); those who stated they were Catholics but not church-goers (42%); and the wards who said they were irreligious (15%). Of the 170 believing wards, 166 (97,6%) were Roman Catholics.

Most wards attended the Mass at the reformatory (18% did that regularly, and 62% – occasionally). Yet as few as 15% attended religion classes regularly, and 22,55% occasionally. As for saying prayers, 25,5% did that regularly, and 41,5% – from time to time. Nearly a half of respondents owned religious objects, mainly pictures, the Bible, crosses, prayer books, holy medals, rosaries.

The wards reformatories usually consider their friends to be mostly believers but not church-goers. For most respondents (72,5%) the problems of religion do not influence their choice of friends. What is astonishing, though, is the slight proportion of those among the respondents who would like a non-believer for a friend (2,5 %). Over a half of the sample (64%) think that religion can change a person for the better. At the same time, next to  none (2) consider its influence to be negative. Choosing a wife in the future, 5l% of the iuvenile intend to take the question of religion into consideration. The rest of the sample consider their future wife’s religion unimportant. As regards the upbringing of children, as many as 72,5 respondents declare for the Catholic faith. In the sphere of the perception of the others in the categories of religion vs. irreligion, significant  differences were found between practising believers and non-believers.

Some social conditions of the declared religious attitudes were investigated. The wards who described themsleves as practising believers were found to come mainly from  the families where also both parents (guardians) as well as siblings were believers. The practising believers used to have mainly believing friends in the past as well.

            The question whether the respondents’ parents (guardians) had induced them to perform religious duties was most frequintly answered in the affirmative by the practicising believers. Following placement in the reformatory, the number of practising believers among the juveniles dropped on the whole, and that of believers who do not go to church and of unbelievers went up.

The hypothesis that religious wards of reformatories are better-behaved while in those institutions than their irreligious friends could not be confirmed. According to the established practice  and internal regulations, leaves are granted to the well-behaved wards. It was found, though, that most leaves had been granted to believers but not church-goers, while  prictising believers had won that award the least often. It turned out also, against expectations, that the greatest proportion of members of the delinquent subculture could be found among the practising believers, and the smallest one – the group of unbelievers.

According to most respondents (83,5%), the wards of Polish reformatories enjoy a full freedom of religious practices. Yet as many as 44% rcspondents would like to be placed in an institution run by the clergy, and 69% – to go out of the reformatory to hear the Mass. The latter, however, were mainly believers but not church-goers. It seems, therefore, that the wish to hear masses said outside the institution not always follows from religious reasons.

The controversial question whether the staff should induce the wards to practice religion was asked in the negative by 79% of the sample.

The findings of the questionnaire survey show that, in principle, the juvenile wards of reformatories, have religious attitudes similar to those of the whole of young persons in the same age brackets. No relationship was found between the juveniles’ religious attitudes and their behavior in the institution. The respondents stated that the religious services offered by the reformatory generally satisfied the needs in that sphere.


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