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February 14, 2014

Series of thoughtful posts on faith-based prisons

Sasha Volokh this week has done an effective series of informative posts on what we know and do not know about faith-based prisons.  The final one is available at this link, and it starts and ends this way:

This is the final post in a series on the effectiveness of faith-based prison programs, based on my recent Alabama Law Review article, Do Faith-Based Prisons Work? (Short answer: no.)  Monday’s post introduced the issue,  Tuesday’s post surveyed some of the least valid studies, Wednesday’s post critiqued the studies that used propensity score matching and discussed other possible empirical strategies, and Thursday’s post talked about the most valid studies–those that used rejected volunteers as a control group.

Throughout, I’ve been putting the faith-based prison research side-by-side with the private schools research, because evaluations of each raise similar methodological problems.  The fact that both are voluntary means that they can attract fundamentally different sorts of people, so their good results might be attributable to the higher-quality participants they attract.  Today’s post ties the ends together and asks whether there’s any way forward for faith-based prisons....

Let’s take the broad view and come back to the education studies that I’ve been using as a point of comparison throughout this Article.  Finally, after decades of research, we have some credible studies estimating the effect of private schools. The best evidence, taken from studies comparing accepted and rejected applicants, indicates that private schools do have a positive effect on the students who attend them, at least for black students and at least for math scores.

On the one hand, one can observe that, next to these results (modest as they are), it’s all the more disappointing that faith-based prisons haven’t shown much in the way of significant positive effects. But on the other hand, it took decades of research and debate by different groups, each using a slightly different empirical approach — and many finding little to no effect — before we got even the mild results we have on private education. This suggests that we should encourage more research on the matter, in different contexts, using a variety of different empirical techniques.

The result is that, if there’s no strong reason to believe that faith-based prisons work at all, and even less reason to believe that they work better than comparably funded secular programs, there’s also little reason to believe that they don’t work, and in many cases they may be the only available alternative. It’s probably sensible to allow such programs to operate and to allow the process of experimentation to work its course, provided that all this can be done constitutionally.

February 14, 2014 at 04:55 PM | Permalink


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I think I can help the lawyer from here down on earth.

Faith based approaches make a huge difference in the quality of life inside prison, reducing rapes, and all manner of corruption and violence. They can also make a big difference in after discharge outcomes.

These approaches will work when the hierarchy of the prisoners adopt them. So the biggest toughest goon in the section decides to adopt any religion. Everyone else falls into place, and the section becomes the quietest, highest performing, most peaceful in the joint.

So faith works, when backed up by force and by self help.

Self help and religion are dirty words to the lawyer. They are 10 times more effective than the lawyer and his silly methodologies, mostly pointless procedures, generating nothing more than fees, and precious little safety. So brilliant lawyers fail to grasp the terribly obvious to all us earthlings because it is so threatening to their make work government jobs.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 14, 2014 5:46:48 PM

I love it when a profession in total failure promulgates misleading propaganda bashing its natural adversaries that are 10 times more successful at fulfilling the self stated goals of the law subject. This lawyer propaganda hit piece is a disgrace by its Kissinger lying, lying by what it leaves out. Has the author ever visited a prison? If he were in there just one day, he would make a bee line to the person I pointed to in the prior comment.

Lawyer thinks we are children, brazenly insulting the intelligence.

For the purpose of disclosure, I am an atheist to the extreme. Everything is here by stupid luck, I believe. We are also totally fucked in the end, and no one is out there to care. Moses, Jesus, Mohamed had the historic validity of Thor and Zeus. Sorry.

Yet, I respect religion. It is likely brain based, being universal to all cultures. It explains to the average person why treat others well, go to work, support the family, and not do the Roman Orgy full time. Compare to the law in total failure, across the board. Lawyers control government and its guns. They are otherwise just idiots save for one success, the collection of the rent at the point of a gun.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 14, 2014 11:19:41 PM

Sasha Volokh has written a lot about private prisons, an idea that he appears to favor in various cases. At the old Volokh Conspiracy site, he talked about it, and there was some interesting comments that were strongly opposed to the idea.

I have mixed feelings about the idea.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 15, 2014 12:19:06 PM


If you were to have read Volokh's posts you would have discovered that he did in fact survey the studies on post-release outcomes, and would see that such outcomes are very much a mixed bag in terms of success. And even where there was clear success it is not at all clear that it is the faith components that were the primary cause for that success.

Now, it may be that self-selection issues really don't matter because in the prison context it is only those who would self-select who will be reached by any kind of program and all the other prisoners should simply be warehoused until they keel over dead. But I see that as a different type of question.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 15, 2014 1:59:53 PM

I think that we need a movie on the topic. Perhaps a Sidney Poitier character who can sing the song Amen. Have some nuns in addition to the guards. A preacher instead of a Warden. A Bishop instead of a Governor to determine who gets pardoned. A High Priest for executions. Choirboys for the firing squad. No more medical care. Let em pray for curing. A prayer at the beginning of each meal. A prayer at bedtime. No more bedtime for bonzo. Make the movie required for all legislators in Texas. Sort out the prisons by denomination. Do not mix different belief systems. I reckon the Jewish prison would be the smallest. Go back to chain gangs and road work. Have the guards carry a cross on the road gangs so that they can burn it if need be and execute any that get out of line or who wont say the Lards Prayer.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Feb 15, 2014 2:39:02 PM


In your wildest imagination, can you ever conceive that the lawyer would ever state that religiosity backed by force and external controls does improve prison safety?


Why not? If prisons were to become safe and recidivism were to decrease, what happens to the lawyer? It is happening now, as crime is dropping. It sent Scalia into a panic. He led the charge against mandatory minimums.


Like the blacks, the Jews, the females, the young, the lawyers all voted for Obama, and now they are royally, and deservedly screwed. The real rate of lawyer unemployment is higher than that of black teenage males, at 45%. A law degree will soon become like one in English Lit, qualification to become a waitress. The lawyer is getting her comeuppance without anyone lifting a finger.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 16, 2014 1:16:23 AM

One notes that the Volokh Conspiracy is now part of Hate America, left wing extremist Washington Post family, now owned by gay marriage advocate and America Hater, Jeff Bezos. Volokh always lied about being libertarian. He is nothing more than another left wing big government extremist.

The term of art, lawyer dumbass, was coined in his personal honor, by the way. This national expert in the First Amendment, knew nothing about nothing about the massive violation of the Establishment Clause by the common law. Nor did he want to learn anything from 10th Grade World History nor from Western Civ 101.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 16, 2014 1:26:47 AM

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