Prison Fellowship to Appeal against Iowa Court Ruling

As the 60 days given to Prison Fellowship to shut down its faith-based reentry program in Iowa wind down, the prison ministry has announced they will appeal the court ruling. Prison Fellowship, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative and the State of Iowa notified the courts on Thursday of their appeal.

"It is our belief that the InnerChange Freedom Initiative is constitutional and well within the framework of the safeguards of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution," said Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley, in a released statement. The appeal was made to the U.S. District Court in Iowa and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt of Des Moines had ordered the closing of Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative on June 2 and gave the ministry 60 days. The court ruled the prison program was a violation of the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause.

In an earlier commentary, Earley stated that the judge's ruling not only had a potential impact on all faith-based groups seeking to minister "the least, the last, and the lost," but that he analyzed and critiqued evangelical actions and beliefs.

"The result is a woefully distorted picture of American evangelicals that paints them as fringe, divisive, and discriminatory," he said.

The appeal notification comes after the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons released a report - Confronting Confinement - on June 8 recommending a re-investment in programming for prisoners to prevent violence inside facilities and reduce recidivism after release.

"It is ironic," said Earley, "that within one week of Judge Pratt's ruling closing down IFI in Iowa, the Commission ... released a report stating that comprehensive rehabilitation programs are the key factor in reducing recidivism, enhancing security in prisons, and protecting the public."

The freedom initiative is a voluntary program that has run for more than 10 years with studies showing that the program drastically reduces the number of former inmates returning to prison.