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June 15, 2008

Is Jesus the answer to overcrowded prisons?

This local article, headlined "Jesus and drug court: Packed prisons lead to jail alternatives," provides a divine response to mass incarceraton  Here are snippets:

One look at the members of Twin Falls' Because of Jesus Ministries makes its obvious these aren't your typical post-incarceration counselors. Nearly all of them have been involved at some point in illegal gangs. Most know the inside of our nation's drug culture. Some have killed people. The support group's style may be unorthodox. But it may also be part of a larger solution to problems stemming from Idaho's exploding prison population.

Anthony Lopez, 32, the founder of Because of Jesus, has been in and out of prison since age 8. After his 2006 release, he began his ministry to ex-convicts and prison inmates, reaching out to those who seemed least open to his message. But he knew many yearning to hear it. The group's mission, Lopez said, is to help any person find his way out of despair, crime and prison into a fruitful, Christ-centered life. In an era when Idaho's justice system can't handle more prisoners, the state needs all the help it can get.

Since 2000, the state has seen a nearly 50-percent increase in the number of inmates it houses. With little space in the state prisons, Idaho Department of Corrections routinely farms out prisoners to costly private prisons in other states. What's less apparent is just how much, if at all, prison overcrowding is affecting Idaho's legal system.

From prosecutors to judges to probation officers, no one will admit overcrowding impacts conscious decisions on prosecution, sentencing and management of convicts. But Minidoka County Prosecutor Nicole Cannon said Idaho's prison population has begun to factor into every facet of the legal system. She said prosecutors and judges may not consciously consider prison overcrowding when pushing sentences. But she suspects the state's lack of space has led to probation for some ill-qualified convicts and reduced charges for others.

In 2001, Idaho initiated its drug courts, widely hailed for reducing recidivism rates among drug-addicted convicts. Drug court is available to offenders who plead guilty to a drug or substance abuse-related charge. To qualify, prosecutors must recommend offenders into the program and judges must uphold that recommendation. If the drug court coordinator and private treatment providers agree an offender's central problem is addiction to drugs or alcohol, the offender enters a one-year treatment program governed by restrictions that gradually relax as it progresses. At the end of the year, charges that led to drug court are dismissed for offenders who have completed all the program's requirements.

"In my view, drug court is the single most successful program we have in diverting people away from drugs," said State Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo. Since drug court's inception, Roskelley said, 60 percent of its graduates have avoided further drug charges. Roskelley said state legislators have come to understand drug court's value in keeping drug users off a path to prison. Considering the most serious conviction for nearly one quarter of Idaho's inmates is drug-related, that's good news not just for the state's budget, but for public health and safety as well....

Anthony Lopez describes his friend Jesus Ortega as being so full of anger when the two men met that Ortega told Lopez he slept better knowing he was going to hell. Ortega was one of Lopez' first Soldiers in Christ - as Because of Jesus members are known - but the road wasn't easy. At the time, Ortega said, problems in his life stretched beyond anything any normal support group could touch. "For me it took the power of Christ," he said. "AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) wasn't going to help."...

June 15, 2008 at 03:56 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Has any research been completed comparing religion-based and non-religion-based programs? If neutral researchers found religion-based programs were more successful in long-term results, would that matter to anyone? It seems like this is doomed to failure without knowing whether or not it is beneficial to the prisoners. Shouldn't that be the primary concern?

Ernie King

Posted by: Ernie King | Jun 16, 2008 8:47:24 AM

Answer: NO.

Substituting one evil for another is no answer to anything. Letting criminals Know that the Truth is the can do whatever they want as long as they "love Jesus" and "accept Christ as their savior" will only cause more crime. Faith-based crime is no less serious than agnostic crime.

Posted by: bruce | Jun 16, 2008 11:09:31 AM

the can = they can

Posted by: bruce | Jun 16, 2008 11:10:06 AM

It is possible to "cook the books" by exclusion of of high risk subjects from a drug treatment program.
If they are clever about how they exclude people it is difficult to prove that is what they are doing. OTOH if they get cure rates that are much larger than legitimate treatment programs that is probably what is being done.

I know I seem cynical but "fleecing the flock" has been going on for a very long time.

Posted by: John Neff | Jun 16, 2008 11:25:58 AM

Odd that the last line of the exerpt contrasts the "faith based" program and the power of Christ with AA given that as many courts have recognized that AA is a religious program (with lots of justification, at least half of their 12 steps are either implicitly or explicitly religious). Of course, in some areas (apparently that one), AA is considered to be the secular program.

Posted by: Zack | Jun 16, 2008 12:02:38 PM

Bruce,

Having witnessed firsthand the effects of individuals benefiting from drug court, it is impossible for me to categorically rule out their value. In fact, a woman at my church suffered over 30 years addicted to a variety of drugs, sold herself to feed said addiction, and committed a host of other crimes as a result of her use. She was picked up, offered a drug court alternative that put her in touch, if she so chose, with a community of individuals who follow Christ to support her through her recovery. She accepted the help and came to faith in Christ. Please, I also want to make clear, it isn't about 'saving' her, it is about 'her'. (sorry, the emphasis is hard to convey in text). When she completed the program, there were easily 20 of us there at her graduation from drug court cheering her on. She remains as valuable to us as any other family member.

I gather from the above and some of your previous posts that you feel strongly about the separation of church and state, yet at the same time, I also understand you to be against the death penalty and therefore value the notion that one must not marginalize the individual or their rights and needs. That may not be the easiest of positions to find one's self in, but at the end of the day, if a person is able to turn away from a life of marginalization, crime and addiction to something better, why stand in the way of that?

It's a position similar to pro-lifers who are for the death penalty. There has to be something to either distinguish or reconcile the apparent conflict. Should a system, like any other, that works for some, but not others, be categorically dismissed, thereby depriving those that do benefit?

Interestingly enough, if the hangup is Christianity, some other drug courts I've encountered on tribal lands also find success, not necessarily in Christianty, but in rediscovering their tribal heritage and reconnecting with their community that way.

Posted by: Christopher | Jun 16, 2008 1:59:30 PM

I have to agree with bruce and John Neff.

I am no warhawk on the separation of church and state, and I cannot entirely discount the possibility that some drug addicts would benefit from a program like this. Still, it has a number of drawbacks. First, outsourcing rehabilitation to a particular religion is a little more religious involvemsnt than seems prudent for secular law. Second, this sort of thing is rife with opportunities for manipulation and deceit. The way back from drug addiction is not through proclaiming religious conversion, which is easy, but by getting a normal job, supporting yourself and staying clean, which is hard.

I am not an enemy of religion by any means, but I tend to be skeptical of those who wear religion on their sleeves. Religion is not a government program; it is a private matter.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 16, 2008 3:20:29 PM

It doesn't seem like there is a lot of disagreement here. Bill, Bruce, Christopher, and John have all made good points. One interesting issue is that one has to wonder if some of the supposed effectiveness of the "religious" based treatment programs have to do with their voluntariness. Obviously under our First Amendment, no person should be forced by the government to participate in religion or a religious program without their consent - however, at the same time, prison inmates should have the right to participate in religious programs if they choose. Thus, it seems that the courts have reached a pretty reasonable position - religious programs can be available to prison inmates who wish to participate, but no inmate can be forced to participate in a religious program.

It also seems to me, that at least some of the supposed effectiveness of the "religious based" programs do arise out of their voluntary nature - because no person can be forced to participate in a religious program, such anti-drug programs may be more effective because persons who participate are self selected. Thus, it would seem that the point is actually pretty obvious - that persons who voluntarily participate in drug programs are more successful than those forced to participate by the court. Thus, while I support the availability of such programs for inmates or persons who want to participate in them - those programs should not be seen as a panacea - and obviously such programs should not be forced upon people. Yes, the idea of government paying for religion or contracting with religion (church and state are separate as much to protect religion after all) gives me the heebie jeebies, but persons in the criminal justice system should not be prevented from voluntary participation in a religious program just because it is religious.

I would think that an equally voluntary secular program would likely have a similar success rate, but I have no evidence to suppor that other than my best guess.

Posted by: Zack | Jun 16, 2008 5:54:01 PM

I gather from the above and some of your previous posts that you feel strongly about the separation of church and state, yet at the same time, I also understand you to be against the death penalty and therefore value the notion that one must not marginalize the individual or their rights and needs.

I do, of course, feel strongly about separation of church and state. I'm against the death penalty, but not for moral reasons; solely for pragmatic ones. If a defendant could be guaranteed a perfect trial, I'd have no problem with the death penalty... but I'd still question what purpose it serves other than making victims feel a little good for a few days.

Having witnessed firsthand the effects of individuals benefiting from drug court, it is impossible for me to categorically rule out their value.

Are you saying drug courts need to be religion-based? I firmly think prohibition should be ended tomorrow; but in the meantime, drug offenders should be given treatment and it would clear up the dockets of criminal courts if the drug offenders were dealt with in some other forum, which we can call a "drug court." But religion is not the answer to addiction. It's also worth noting that not everyone who uses drugs is addicted to them.

Religions are big business, as I've said many times before. They've done a fantastic job of marketing themselves such that people equate religion with morality. Religion, Inc., has long known that the easiest way to get new customers is to "help" people in bad situations. Faith based prisons is the most disgusting, dispicable example of this - because they literally have a captive audience to convert. Even the dumbest inmates in a Christian prison know that going along with the offered religious programs, saying they have found Jesus, and saying Jesus has cured them of their sins is the most direct route to early release/parole.

Religion, Inc. and its marketing gurus will respond by saying such prisons are "entirely voluntary." But that is incredibly disingenuous. The choice between an old, dirty, overcrowded secular prison with mean guards versus a smaller, newer, Christian prison with guards who are friendly so as to spread Christianity which is a direct means to early release is no choice at all. I'm an atheist and I'd feel forced to choose the faith-based prison.

She was picked up, offered a drug court alternative that put her in touch, if she so chose, with a community of individuals who follow Christ to support her through her recovery. She accepted the help and came to faith in Christ.

Exactly my point... damn I couldn't come up with a more blunt example. Be locked up in a dirty, filthy, overcrowded secular prison with evil guards and sexual assault, or, instead, "choose" to go to a small, clean, friendly facility and have jesus shoved up your ass. To sum it up: you're going to have something shoved up your ass - either a penis or jesus. Rape is rape.

It's the same bullshit they try to do in public schools. A child can join in with the majority of the class and say a morning prayer to Christ, or they can sit in the corner with the one or two other kids whose parents are non-Christian... "totally voluntary" my ass.

I am not an enemy of religion by any means, but I tend to be skeptical of those who wear religion on their sleeves. Religion is not a government program; it is a private matter.

Very well said. Couldn't agree more (except that I am an enemy of religion).

Also, everyone PLEASE be keenly aware that all the data and statistics that purport to show faith-based prisons are more effective than secular prisons come from, and are made by Religion, Inc.

Interestingly enough, if the hangup is Christianity, some other drug courts I've encountered on tribal lands also find success, not necessarily in Christianty, but in rediscovering their tribal heritage and reconnecting with their community that way.

Yeah the native american tribes can have their own tribal jails, but I assure you there will NEVER be a federally-funded Jewish prison, Muslim prison, Hindu prison, Buddhist prison, Scientologist prison, etc. Only Christian. The idea that my tax dollars are being spent to force Christianity on a literally captive audience sickens me, and it's a worse crime than ANYTHING done by those inmates.

Posted by: bruce | Jun 16, 2008 6:44:54 PM

Most criminals have a mental health problem. The few cites and states that are opening up mental health courts are having an impact on recidivism and ameliorating the harsh pain that mental disease imposes. Religion as a treatment modality, particularly Christianity, is a false "way". Crazy folks who have a living hell are not too threatened by hell in an afterlife. The only place that I know that Jesus really saves is at IGA. I really can not trust people who wrap themselves up in the flag, who join the Chamber of Commerce or cozy up with the Bible.
Tax funds are the main goal for these charlatans. A huge majority of criminals are crazy. Treat em--- dont beat em with Christ.

Posted by: MPB | Jun 17, 2008 7:28:52 AM

Bruce, I agree with you that a choice between prison and the Jesus program is a clear violation of the Establishment and probably Free Exercise Clause as well. It seems to me however that, at least thus far, courts are striking a balance between the inmates right to participate in a religious program and the inmates right to not be coerced into religion - for example, courts have held that penalizing nonparticipation in a religious program violates the Establishment Clause (see e.g., Kerr v. Farrey, 95 F.3d. 472 (7th Cir. 1996); Turner v. Hickman, 342 F.Supp. 2d. 887 (C.D. Cal. 2004); Nussbaum v. Terrangi, 210 F. Supp. 2d 784 (E.D. Va. 2002). This is based on Supreme Court decisions like West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett, Engle v. Vitale, and Lee v. Weisman that the government violates the constitution when it coerces religious practice. The general requirement seems to be that the government can offer the religious program but they must also offer a secular program for those who object to the religious content (the main case there is Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation, 115 F.3d 1068 (2nd Cir. 1997).

So even though I strongly support the separation of church and state as well I think that such programs are actually much more voluntary than you are making them out to be. If truly voluntary, such programs seem to be okay - and I would argue that the exclusion of inmates who wish to join it from a program due to its religious nature would violate those inmates free exercise rights. Obviously, I believe that these programs are fine and potentially desirable as long as inmates are free to choose whether to participate in them or not - and there are no penalities attached to their refusal - and that programs be available for different religious or non-religious traditions.

Bruce, I agree with you - giving government money to churches is bad in general and there can be nothing more unamerican than coerced religious practice - but we must also protect the rights of inmates to participate in religious rehabilitation programs if they choose them.

Posted by: Zack | Jun 17, 2008 3:31:24 PM

Most criminals have a mental health problem.

That depends. Do you consider the desire to seek pleasure to be a mental health problem? I don't. Using heroin is perfectly rational. It's the negative legal externalities which impose costs on doing so, not the act of using heroin itself. Anyone who doesn't want to do something that feels so good it makes the greatest sex in the world feel like a papercut is the one with the mental health problem.

It also depends if you consider drug "addiction" (far more subjective a term than most people think) to be a mental health problem in and of itself. I don't. The whole "addiction is a disease" mantra is merely an argument against imposing penal sactions on drug use. And it's a good argument. But that doesn't mean it's really a disease. It's more analagous to a disease than a crime, that's for sure.

It also depends if you consider high levels of testosterone to be a mental health problem. There is a direct correlation between violent crime and high testosterone levels.

It also depends what type of criminal you're talking about. Insider trading or rape? Tax fraud or murder? Money laundering or robbery? Counterfieting or possession of kiddie porn?

I'd say a minority of criminals have mental health problems. Unless you consider plain old stupidity to be a mental health problem. Most people in prison are stupid. Put some blame on the state of our educational system. But beyond that, stupidity leads to criminality.

Zack: I'd rather have 100 convicted rapists released from prison and commit rape again than have ONE convicted rapist coerced by the state into converting to christianity (or any other religion for that matter). 100 rapes is the lesser of the two evils. Gotta look at the really big picture, though.

Of course, I am entirely in favor of letting incarcerated persons practice their religions without interference (so long as the practice of said religion doesn't substantially interfere with the safety and order of the institution). For a prison to tell an inmate he cannot practice Wicca (but he can go talk to the Christian chaplain who will be happy to teach him about jesus!) is a fundamental crime. Only because of the preference of one religion over another. If it were up to me, no religion would be allowed in prison, and anyone caught praying would be sent to the hole for a month.

Posted by: bruce | Jun 18, 2008 12:36:54 AM

religious rehabilitation programs

That's an oxymoron. Unless you mean programs that unbrainwash religion from people so they end up being atheists/agnostics. I don't thin such a program exists, though. Religious people would never go voluntarily, as all religions would make doing so a sin.

Posted by: bruce | Jun 18, 2008 12:39:05 AM

religious rehabilitation programs

That's an oxymoron. Unless you mean programs that unbrainwash religion from people so they end up being atheists/agnostics. I don't thin such a program exists, though. Religious people would never go voluntarily, as all religions would make doing so a sin.

Posted by: bruce | Jun 18, 2008 12:47:00 AM

In the mid seventies, myself and two other legal services lawyers were appointed by a federal judge to represent the Church Of the New Song which was a group of inmates who had formed their own church in prison in Illinois. They wanted their own diet, church services, chaplins, ministers. The acronym was CONS.

Posted by: mpb | Jun 18, 2008 6:17:05 PM

Persecution became a "prime contributor to an amazing spiritual breakthrough," an AD 2000 report says. Churches were shut and Christians were arrested, tortured, and sentenced to years in prison during the 16-year rule of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. The church grew stronger and millions reportedly turned to Christ by the time he was ousted in 1990.
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