With the driving of religion out of all forms of public life it is refreshing to see that the much criticized Texas Department of Corrections has the courage to allow a faith-based section of a prison.
Ever since I entered the Illinois House of Representatives in 1973, the Department of Corrections has been misnamed.
It doesn’t “correct” prisoners.
It punishes them.
If “Truth in Labeling” laws could be applied to governmental entities, a name change would be mandatory.
Even Governor Rod Blagojevich resurrection of the Sheridan Correctional Center as a drug rehab place is severely suspect.
I have heard from more than one source that probation officers are told not to blemish Sheridan’s reputation by sending those with paroled infractions back to jail.
So, I’d like to point folks to some real good news. In fact, it even sounds like Good News.
In an Associated Press story by Dave Carey, which I first saw last Sunday in the Daily Herald, but will link to an October 13th International Herald Tribune story in the hope that it will work for more than a week, there is a report of
“the Carol Vance Unit, founded in 1997 on the outskirts of Houston. It’s the oldest of a rapidly growing number of faith-based prison facilities across the nation.”
Ten states now have such programs…as close as Iowa and Missouri.
I first heard about this idea when I was serving with my seatmate State Rep. Tom Johnson, who was chairman of the Prison Reform Committee. He showed me a newsletter from Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship organization with an extraordinary story about a prison in Brazil.
It was operated with only a handful of guards and escapes were nil.
Inmates had to be Christians to gain entry and, just like Paul with the earthquake would have allowed him to escape, they stay behind bars for their punishment.
The warden in Texas, Cynthia Tilley, says she loves the place.
“It’s so calm.”
These don’t work without volunteers.
It’s not that Illinois prisons don’t have Christian volunteers. I met a man on a Walk to Emmaus who found Jesus in Jacksonville’s prison. He certainly seemed like a changed man to me.
Reporter Carey is writing a balanced article, though, and adds this in the beginning:
“Evidence that they reduce recidivism is inconclusive, and skeptics question whether the prevailing evangelical tone of the units discriminates against inmates who don’t share their conservative Christian outlook.”
However, evidence is strong that violence and trouble-making drop sharply in these programs, and they often are the only vibrant rehabilitation option at a time when taxpayer-funded alternatives have been cut back.
Ask the inmates and they say they “are treated with respect. They have hope.”
That is so different from what happens in Illinois prisons, at least the ones I visited in the late 1990’s.
Most states let Prison Fellowship run their programs. Florida does it on its own.
The three prisons (two for men, one for women) have 30% fewer infractions than the others.
I’ll be the guards fight to work there.
In Texas, men are eligible only the last two years of their sentence.
One inmate, Raymond Halls, convicted of murder at age 16 and sentenced to 15 years, said,
“In my other prison, on a daily basis there was rape, drugs. When you come to Carol Vance, it’s like a load is lifted. It’s like heaven.”
A volunteer teaching Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” admonished his class:
“You guys are a chosen nation. You go out from prison with a different mind-set from guys not in this program.”
Each prisoner has a mentor in and after prison.
Besides the state-run prisons, Corrections Corporation of America has 24 prisons in 13 states with “faith pods.”
More information on the Texas program can be found at this web site.