Iowa Renews Contract for Bible-Based Prison Program

Correction appended

The state of Iowa has renewed the contract for a decade-old Bible-based prison rehabilitation program for its final year despite a federal court order that plans on shutting down the operation.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), sponsored by the Va.-based Prison Fellowship, was deemed unconstitutional last year by Federal Judge Robert Pratt, who ordered the program to be terminated. The judge held off on closing it, however, since an appeal is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals, so the organization has been able to continue with support from private funding and donations.

Now, however, Iowa has approved the move to continue their agreed-upon contract, giving the program some added support.

"We are delighted that the governor and the Department of Corrections have agreed to extend this powerful program for reducing recidivism for the third and final year of its contract," commented Prison Fellowship President and former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to work with the DOC toward the goal of enhancing public safety – for the benefit of all the citizens of Iowa."

IFI has been operating as part of Newton Correctional Facility since 1999 and is currently working with about 145 inmates, offering counseling, prayer, and Bible study.

Organization leaders were surprised when the federal court had ruled to eliminate the rehabilitation program, because they argued that it greatly reduced recidivism – the act of repeating undesirable behavior after receiving punishment for it –in the prisons. Thus, it cut down jail costs and enhanced public safety.

According to a report recently released by the Iowa Department of Management, IFI was ranked as most successful in reducing total recidivism out of all the 17 Iowa Department of Corrections' substance abuse treatment programs. This is important, according to IFI leaders, since nine out of ten offenders have a history of alcohol or drug problems.

A preliminary study in 2003 run by the University of Pennsylvania on a Texas branch of IFI also showed that those in the IFI rehabilitation group were significantly less likely to be re-incarcerated than other comparison groups.

"In a era of evidence-based government, this independent evaluation by the state of Iowa provides important empirical evidence that faith-based programs like IFI can be effective in lowering recidivism rates," said Byron Johnson, professor of sociology and co-director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. "While the recent research on the effectiveness of faith-based programs is just beginning to emerge, there are hundreds of published studies showing the importance of religion and spirituality in reducing crime, delinquency, alcohol abuse, drug use, and other social ills."

After the federal ruling to close IFI, Prison Fellowship, the state of Iowa, and six other faith-based legal groups filed an appeal and submitted amicus briefs – voluntary information given to assist the courts in reaching a decision. A ruling from the 8th Circuit is expected soon.

If the appeal upholds the federal court's ruling, the Bible-based program will be forced to shut down immediately.

IFI also have men's programs that run in five other states – Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri – as well as women's programs in three states – Minnesota, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Correction: Friday, July 6, 2007

An article on Tuesday, July 3, 2007, about Iowa renewing a contract with the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) incorrectly reported that state would be funding the Bible-based prison rehabilitation program. IFI is privately funded and the state of Iowa is not funding any portion of the program. The organization's contract was simply renewed, so members can continue their program.