Religious prison program works
|By ROZ KOHLS|
After three years, a faith-based prison program has a recidivism rate of 10 percent compared to the state average return-to-prison rate of 33 percent. Three years isn’t a long time, but the difference between the two percentages is significant enough to give even non-religious people pause.
The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is a state funded prison program at Lino Lakes. Currently 170 inmates are enrolled. All Minnesota prisoners, who are between 18 to 36 months from release, can apply. The Lino Lakes inmates take hours of classes and Bible study. All faiths are welcome but it’s basically a Christian program.
“It’s done a good job of keeping people from returning to prison, and how can you not support that,” said the state’s top prison official, Commissioner Joan Fabian. She said the state intends to expand the program in August to the women in the Shakopee women’s prison.
Former Governor Al Quie, R, an officer for the charities that run the program, and US Rep. Mark Kennedy, R, of the 6th district where Lino Lakes is located, are strong advocates of the program.
It’s been effective so far, so it seems strange that anyone would criticize it. Some are, though.
A federal judge in Iowa said InnerChange is religiously coercive and a violation of the separation of church and state.
If it’s voluntary and open to any inmate, no matter what religion or lack of, I don’t see how it can be coercive.
Also, Quie pointed out the state uses government money for preschool programs run by churches or to Lutheran Social Service Charities.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Quie said.
In addition, Lino Lakes warden David Crist said he’s seen few problems with it. As long as it helps prevent the return of inmates to prison later, he doesn’t want to argue with success.
He acknowledged, though, that the recidivism rates didn’t include inmates who joined InnerChange and dropped out before they were released. It might be too early to tell for sure.
As long as it works, and it’s voluntary, let’s go for it.