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September 25, 2008

Say hallelujah for new faith-based prison scholarship

I have been amazed and disappointed by how little scholarly attention has been given to the faith-based prison movement.  Thus, I say hallelujah for this new piece from Lynn Branham appearing on SSRN.  (Music fans can listen to Jeff Buckley or Tracy Chapman if they'd like a melodious hallelujah.)  The article is titled "'The Devil is in the Details': A Continued Dissection of the Constitutionality of Faith-Based Prison Units," and here is the abstract:

Faith-based prison units can afford prisoners who choose to be housed in them the concentrated and sustained spiritual nourishment that they believe they need to grow spiritually or in other ways. But critics claim that these units abridge the Establishment Clause.  This Article debunks two of the arguments most frequently asserted against the constitutionality of faith-based units. The first is that prisoners cannot exercise a "true private choice" in the "inherently coercive" environment of a prison to live in such a unit.  But court decisions confirm that confinement does not abnegate the voluntariness of other decisions made by prisoners, such as whether to make inculpatory admissions as a precondition to being admitted into a prison treatment program.  It is also noteworthy that the government's employment of prison chaplains is constitutional. To conclude that a prisoner can exercise a "true private choice" to receive religious services from a prison chaplain but cannot exercise such a choice when deciding whether to live in a faith-based unit betrays what Justice Scalia lamented is a "trendy disdain for deep religious conviction."  The Article also refutes the argument that faith-based units reflect governmental favoritism towards religion barred by the Establishment Clause. Even if the units did not further such secular goals as the reduction of recidivism, the units can be a legitimate means of relieving or diminishing burdens the government itself has imposed on inmates' ability to grow spiritually while they are incarcerated.

Some related posts on faith-based prison programs:

September 25, 2008 at 05:25 PM | Permalink


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