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True Freedom Behind Bars

The Battle over Religion in Prison

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By Mark Earley, Christian Post Guest Columnist
July 2, 2006|8:51 am

Do you notice a trend here? The Freedom from Religion Foundation sues the Federal Bureau of Prisons over their attempt to establish faith-based programs. That same group is suing the state of New Mexico and the Corrections Corporation of America to halt a faith-based prison program there. And as I've told you on BreakPoint, Barry Lynn and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have sued Prison Fellowship, the state of Iowa, and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) for operating a faith-based program in Iowa.

It's hardly a coincidence that these lawsuits are popping up at a time when faith-based programs have received the support of President Bush. But this assault on faith-based programming goes beyond politics. It's a religious battle being waged by groups whose religion really is no religion. Our nation's prisons are merely the newest theater of operations in the campaign to scrub every influence of religion from American public life.

But there's something else at stake when it comes to removing religion from prisons, and it's critical: public safety. Each year, more than 600,000 inmates in the U.S. are released from prison. Within three years, two-thirds of them will be rearrested for new crimes involving new victims. As the recent report of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons found, the key to reducing recidivism, enhancing security within the prisons, and protecting the public is comprehensive rehabilitative programming.

And that's exactly what the faith-based IFI Initiative offers. An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania has confirmed it. It shows that graduates of IFI's program in Texas were far less likely to return to prison within two years than inmates who did not graduate from IFI. So it's especially disturbing that a federal judge in Iowa would order the program shut down.

If states are prohibited from working with faith-based organizations to reduce recidivism, where are cash-strapped correctional officials going to turn for help? Consider IFI's post-release programming. The judge in Iowa himself admitted that "no other [Iowa] Department of Corrections therapeutic community treatment program comes close to offering the focused, extensive aftercare programming available to inmates in InnerChange."

That's why correctional officials across the U.S. want IFI. Not for its religious content, but for its success in helping the state to reduce recidivism and protect the public. The judge in Iowa acknowledged that correctional officials simply can't afford to replicate a program like IFI.

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By removing faith-based programs from prisons, we're tying the hands of corrections officials and hurting the public. But more than that, we are punishing prisoners who, maybe for the first time, want to change their life, or have hope that they can leave prison and stay crime-free. That's a hope that Chuck Colson and I have seen in the eyes of thousands of prisoners across this country.

Prison Fellowship and IFI are appealing the judge's ruling to shut down IFI. And BreakPoint will keep you informed about the progress of the case, because the battle over faith in our prisons is one America can't afford to lose. It's about faith and public safety.

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F rom BreakPoint®, June 30, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

 

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