In support of his new book, More God Less Crime, Byron Johnson, of Baylor, has put up a wonderful website about the relationship of religion and crime.
Years ago, an undergraduate student and I published a meta-analysis of this literature, and we found an overall negative correlation between religion on crime. (I.e., religious involvement and affiliation corresponded with less criminal behavior). Our abstract:
Do religious beliefs and behaviors deter criminal behavior? The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime. In this article, the authors address this controversial issue with a meta-analysis of 60 previous studies based on two questions: (1) What is the direction and magnitude of the effect of religion on crime? (2) Why have previous studies varied in their estimation of this effect? The results of the meta-analysis show that religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals’ criminal behavior. Furthermore, previous studies have systematically varied in their estimation of the religion-on-crime effect due to differences in both their conceptual and methodological approaches.
I haven’t done much in the area since, and clearly this book is the definitive statement on research on this area. (Also, it’s a great book-support site).
Check it out.