Christian Prison Rehab Case May End Friday

The fate of a Christian inmate prison program accused of crossing the church-state line will soon be in a judge’s hands as arguments in a case involving the InnerChange Freedom Initiative are close to an end.

Since late September, lawyers have presented their facts in a federal case that could set a precedent for how Christian groups providing values-based social services should be treated by the government.

Americans United for the Separation of Church State, the lead plaintiff, claims that funding from the State of Iowa to the Innerchange program violates the establishment of religion clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Prison Fellowship, which runs the Innerchange program, maintains that the Department of Corrections is using a law to provide a values-based prisoner rehabilitation program alternative that has proven to be successful and cost-effective.

Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley said that the primary goal of the program is to reduce inmate recidivism and that no inmate is compelled to take part in the Biblically-based Christian program.

In a phone call on Thursday, Earley said he expects the case to end on Friday or early next week. After its conclusion, the judge may issue a ruling by February. In the meantime, he expects to file memorandums and briefs for the judge relating to the case.

Earley emphasized that the program is very successful. Among those who finish the entire 18 month Innerchange pre-release program, eight percent of those who graduate return to prison versus the 50 percent who return to prison overall, he said, citing previous studies and internal statistics.

When asked about the requirements for participating in the program, he replied that Innerchange does not require participants in its programs to be Christian and does not discriminate against those of other faiths or those without a faith that want to participate.

He stressed that the inmate pre-release program was entirely voluntary and that the way in which someone would receive the biblical teachings would vary from inmate to inmate, as anyone would respond in society to the truths of Scripture that were shared.

He explained that the workers were required to be Christians and that the program took a “transformational approach” for helping inmates change their lives.

The Innerchange website describes it in the following way:

IFI seeks a radical transformation that is only possible through the power of God who created us in His image for His purpose. Jesus came to "heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty for the captives, open the eyes of the blind, and set at liberty the oppressed." (Isa. 42). Only through the power of God can anyone truly change their hearts.

Earley said the program was totally voluntary for anyone to come in and out of including those who weren’t interested.