Faith-Based Prison Programs on the Line

Inmates on death row have dropped in number for the fifth consecutive year, stated a new report, and fewer executions have been carried out in the last 11 months than the previous year.

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics announced on Sunday that the Federal Bureau of Prisons and 36 states held 3,254 inmates sentenced to death at the end of last year – 66 fewer than at the end of 2004. Meanwhile, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan, offered prayers for those on death row at the "bloodiest prison in America."

Brownback was at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola this past weekend to promote religious-based prison efforts to "break the cycle" of recidivism. Around that time, Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley filed a final brief in an appeal to get a faith-based program back in Iowa prisons.

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The federal district judge had shut down Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative in June and ruled for the repayment to the state of $1.5 million paid to IFI for services over the past six years.

As studies have continuously shown the failures of America's penal system, Earley argues that faith-based reform efforts have helped transform hearts and promote public safety as programs like IFI have contributed to lowering recidivism.

At Angola, prisoners have six interfaith chapels, nightly prayer services, four part-time chaplains and a Bible college. And just a few months ago, some inmates were in the audience of evangelist Franklin Graham's festival. Graham had praised the changes being made at the prison, calling it a "model prison" with many lives changed.

Brownback, while an advocate of a separation of church and state, told prisoners in his overnight visit, "I do not believe in a removal of faith from the public square. Our motto of our land is, 'In God We Trust.'"

Meanwhile, oral arguments on the lawsuit by Americans United for Separation of Church and State against the state of Iowa, challenging the IFI program, are expected to take place in the spring. Earley generalized this specific case to the social work of all evangelical Christians.

"This is an important case because the judge basically said that evangelical Christians, by his definition, could not do or say anything that was not intended to convert someone,” he said, according to Agape Press, "and therefore, we couldn't do this program in a state-run prison."

Reports indicate that the IFI case in Iowa could impact other states with religious prison programs.

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