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December 10, 2006

The virtues of faith-based prisons

The front page of today's New York Times has this lengthy article entitled "Religion for Captive Audiences, With Taxpayers Footing the Bill."  Though not solely about faith-based prisons, the article critically examines the fact that faith-based prison programs are proliferating.  The article spotlights that "Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison management company ... is substantially expanding its religion-based curriculum" and that "the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs at least five multifaith programs at its facilities, is preparing to seek bids for a single-faith prison program."

Regular readers know I tend to support the faith-based prison movement.  Though I am agnostic on the constitutional issues such programs can present, I am a true believer in the beneficial resources and energies that get devoted to faith-based prison programs.  My instincts were recently confirmed by this report from the Florida ex-offender task force, which noted these virtues of faith-based prisons:

The transformation of the prison culture in faith and character-based prisons shows promise for prisons across the state. Much of the change in these prisons is due to leadership changes, increased mutual respect among staff, inmates and volunteers, the increased engagement of volunteers, and a focused emphasis on rehabilitation....

Faith and character-based institutional transformations are budget-neutral and appear to be achieving some good outcomes.  Although it is too soon to measure recidivism rates of the people leaving the transformed facilities, the disciplinary rates of these facilities are about half of similar profiles of inmates in other facilities.

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December 10, 2006 at 01:47 PM | Permalink


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There is a saying that "criminals find God on the footsteps of the court house." However, at that point any new found morality is often too late to reverse the damage done to society as a result of their crimes.

The faith based prison initiative is worthy of support. It should be carefully monitored for potential abuses as should any other rehabilitative program.

Once in prison the focus must be on the best means of rehabilitation. We should have a variety of programs towards achieving such a goal since no single program is effective for every prisoner.


Sam E. Antar

Posted by: Sam E. Antar (Former Crazy Eddie CFO & ex-felon) | Dec 10, 2006 8:20:57 PM

I'm fairly skeptical of the claim that faith-based prison programs (fbpps) result in fewer disciplinary problems. I wouldn't at all be surprised if the study repeats the fatal (and blatantly dishonest) flaws that has plagued trumped up reports on faith based programs, in which people that weren't toeing the line were booted out of the program. In effect, disciplinary problems are just defined out of the study.

After a little looking, here's an article that critiques a study on the effectiveness of fbpps. When all of the people that dropped out or were booted out of the program are factored in, participants in the fbpp did slightly worse than the general population; it's sample bias that makes the program look better.

(I'm a jd, avocationally interested in law & policy)

Posted by: jpe | Dec 10, 2006 10:36:59 PM

I flatly object to my tax dollars being used to force Christianity on captive and vulnerable persons. Why Jesus? Why not Judaism, Islam, Scientology, or Wicca? I don't care if the success rate is provably 5,000 percent higher than non-faith based prisons. It is wrong.

Posted by: Bruce | Dec 11, 2006 12:20:10 PM

Concerning the Faith-based program, as a Correctional Officer I have had the privilege of working on a faith based unit. I have seen lives changed and transformed. However, there are inmates that get in this program so it will look good on their jacket when they come up for parole. Those inmates who do submit themselves to this program there is a geniune transformation that begins to take place in their lives. Programs will not change behaviour, but if that Inmates heart is changed...there behaviour will change, also....And you will have a much less likelihood that this individual will be a return offender to the prison system once out.

Posted by: David | Dec 27, 2006 10:25:46 PM

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