Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sioux City Journal: Lawsuit over prison religion program goes to judge

Sioux City Journal: Lawsuit over prison religion program goes to judge:
"DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A Christian prison program is unconstitutional and should be shut down, lawyers for an advocacy group said Friday in closing arguments.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative has been operated at the Newton Correctional Facility since 1999.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Des Moines against Iowa prison officials and Prison Fellowship Ministries, which sponsors the program, claiming it violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause, while receiving state funding...."
I'd like to know a little more about this program as well as the similar programs in Kansas, Minnesota and Texas.

The proponents of such programs say claim that the program is open to all who choose, and that behavior is improved and recidivism is reduced, thus providing benefits in the near and long term.

The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State do not rebut those claims in this article; intead they focus on what they perceive as coercion and discrimination against non-Christians, as well as the predictable constitutional issues.

Another story, titled Faith-based Prison Program Case in Judge's Hands, appeared in the Des Moines Register and closes with this:
"...Americans United also alleged the program's inmates receive special privileges not afforded to other prisoners, including an opportunity to complete treatment classes required for parole earlier than they could otherwise.

Defense lawyers disputed the allegations, saying no one is forced to participate and they receive no preference for paroles.

"Inmates of all faiths and no faiths are welcome," said Anthony Troy, a lawyer for Prison Fellowship. Catholic inmates who join the program are permitted to pray the Rosary and attend Mass; Native Americans may attend the sweat lodge and pray to the Creator, and Muslim inmates may observe Ramadan and Jumah, defense lawyers said."
Well, here we have questions of fact, and it remains for a judge to evaluate which side is more truthful.

Pending any further information, my gut response is that we know what doesn't work in the American penal system. These programs do seem to work, and as long as the criteria for joining the program are even-handed, and the criteria for dismissal are based on behavioral choices rather than adhering to a "proper" set of beliefs, then why not?

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Quotidian Grace said...

We live near a large prison facility and my church has always been active in several of the faith-based programs there. We have even had a couple of inmates join the church after release and have helped them get jobs and a place to live.

Having a good support system after release is what separates the recidivists from those who succeed in reforming their lives. Isn't that what the church should be all about and isn't that what is in the best interest of society as well?

Denis Hancock said...

You'd think that people would agree that this is a good thing, or at the very least, better than the alternative.

My observations of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is that they are very much like the National Rifle Association --even things which seem reasonable are opposed since that would lead you down the "slippery slope".

It sounds like your congregation has an effective ministry. There are no prisons in Columbia, but Boonville, Fulton and Jefferson City congregations are involved with local facilities. The State of Missouri does not subsidize any of these programs, to my knowledge, and there are many roadblocks in the way of even getting personal Bibles into the hands of individual inmates.