"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.I'd like to know a little more about this program as well as the similar programs in Kansas, Minnesota and Texas.
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...."
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.Well, here we have questions of fact, and it remains for a judge to evaluate which side is more truthful.
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."
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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