Faith-Based Prison Program Launched in Sixth State

While being disputed in one state, a faith-based prison program was launched in its sixth state to help reduce the rate of ex-prisoners returning to the jail house.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a voluntary program aimed at morally transforming inmates by teaching values based on Christian principles, began a program for men at the Missouri Department of Corrections’ Algoa Correctional Center.

"There is an overwhelming demand from state correctional systems for alternative programming, with states acknowledging the limitations of traditional programs and asking for transformative programs like IFI,” said Prison Fellowship President and former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley in a released statement. “We are delighted to be partnering with the Missouri Department of Corrections to bring the residents of this state a program designed to help put an end to the destructive cycle of crime.”

The launch on March 1 at the correctional center comes amid an appeal in Iowa where the IFI program had been ruled unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment's clause barring government from the establishment of religion. The court order last June ruled for the program's shutdown and the repayment of $1.5 million to the state.

Retired and visiting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is considering the appeal, saying that the demand for IFI to pay back the large amount seemed like an "extreme position." A decision on the appeal is expected in the next few months.

As Gordon Allen, attorney for the state of Iowa, argues that forcing IFI to pay back the money would reduce the likelihood of other groups bidding to provide prison services, a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 1.7 million men and women are expected to live in American prisons by 2011 - a growth of 12 percent.

Earley says recidivism is one cause that would fuel the predicted prison population. IFI has, however, helped reduce the likelihood of former inmates returning to prison, Earley indicated pointing to an independent study by the University of Pennsylvania.

"IFI has helped make communities safer by decreasing recidivism rates and improving inmates’ opportunities for re-entry," said Missouri Department of Corrections Director Larry Crawford. "Inmates who finish the voluntary program leave prison more prepared for success, which increases public safety and saves taxpayers’ money."

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is also scheduled for launch at Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, Mo., on June 4. Missouri would become the third state to launch an IFI women's program.