Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Green Light for IFI - Prison Fellowship

A Green Light for IFI - Prison Fellowship:
"Just yesterday, we received some good news concerning the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, or IFI.

As you may know, IFI is an intensive and effective faith-based program for prisoners launched by Prison Fellowship 10 years ago. Several years ago, Barry Lynn and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued IFI in Iowa, claiming it was unconstitutional. In June 2006, a federal judge agreed and ordered the program shut down—and for Prison Fellowship, which launched IFI, to repay the state of Iowa $1.5 million. Mind you, that is the money the state happily paid to IFI for running an effective program that reduces recidivism among prisoners.

Naturally, Prison Fellowship and IFI appealed. And the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has finally spoken. The three-judge panel, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, overturned major portions of Judge Pratt’s ruling."
This was mentioned on Presbyweb yesterday, and it caught my interest as it was a topic I had blogged about in the past.

The Washington Post had an article, Court: Prison Program Unconstitutional, that gave more details, but the headline was, shall we say, misleading.

THe Americans United for the Separation of Church and State's article, Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Public Funding Of Evangelical Prison Program In Iowa, at least had a more accurate headline, although its spin was that this was going to bring such programs to a "screeching halt". Not quite...

These things seem to be true, according to the order of the 8th Circuit:
  • Direct aid to such programs is in violation of the Establishment Clause.
  • The program itself is NOT in violation of the Establishment Clause. It also seems from reading the ruling that the inmate's participation was entirely appropriate under the Free Exercise Clause.
  • Because clear value to the inmates and to society was demonstrated, the order for InnerChange Freedon Initiative (IFI) to repay 1.5 million dollars was vacated. Any amounts paid to IFI after June 2, 2006 (the date of the original ruling) are to be repaid (an amount the Washington Post said was $160,000).
In reading the order of the 8th Circuit, it seems to me that some aspects of the program were unduly harsh, but the court placed more emphasis on the fact that inmates volunteered to take part in the program.

Contrary to Americans United's opinion, this and similar programs are not at a screeching halt. In fact they continue under private funding.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals took note of the fact that this program has demonstrated that it works in reducing recidivism -- a claim that the various penal systems nationwide cannot make -- and perhaps this tipped the scales in their favor. Certainly repaying 1.5 million dollars for effective work performed under contract would have been a major cramp in their ministry.

This will clarify how such programs can operate, and hopefully more inmates can receive its benefit.

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