"Faith-Based" and Inescapable

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Today's Houston Chronicle details a plan to build a federally-funded megachurch whose congregants won't be able to skip -- or even leave -- on Sunday -- or any other time.

[Ex-con and presently bankrupt Bill] Robinson's Corrections Concepts Inc. is hammering out the details with Tom Green County to build and operate a $35 million, 624-bed lockup in San Angelo, and he has the former chairman of the Texas Criminal Justice Board and a former Oklahoma warden on his side.

"People realize we have to try something different," said Tom Green County Commissioner Steve Floyd, who is part of a majority on the commission supporting Robinson. "You have President Bush and others out there proposing faith-based initiatives as something we should try." [bold added]
This would not be not our nation's first "faith-based" prison.
Christian programs, including one run by former Watergate figure Charles Colson, have operated for several years inside state-run prisons in Texas, Iowa and elsewhere.

For the past two years the Lawtey Correctional Institution in Florida has been operating as the nation's first faith-based prison. At Lawtey, 28 religions are represented, including Scientology and Wicca.

Corrections Concepts' lockup would be the first in the nation with a strictly Christian bent.
While I don't want my tax money being spent to proseletyze for any religion, I still find myself saying, "Scientology and Wicca?!?!" And I know our prisons are probably already hotbeds of Islam, but if this keeps going, we'll be training terrorists with federal money at a prison with a "strictly Islamic bent".

And how do the redoubtable Mr. Robinson and his marks -- I mean supporters -- answer the charge that this violates separation of church and state?
"You have to volunteer for our program, and that inmate knows he is coming to a Christian-run facility," said Robinson, speaking from his home office in northeast Dallas. "His worship practices will be accommodated without hostility or interference, but the (evening) curriculum is Christ-centered, and every employee is a Christian believer."
First, the "voluntary" aspect of this program in no way alters the fact that my money is being confiscated from me to support an ideology I oppose and that our Constitution clearly states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Second, the "voluntary" aspect of the program can only be said with any degree of certainty to apply to admission into such a prison. What if an inmate changes his mind and what if the warden wants to make him reconsider by threatening to send him to the worst prison in the state? Will corrections officials trust a warden who says that this inmate has serious behavioral problems that constitute a threat to the safety of other prisoners? Or the prisoner, who is saying that he doesn't accept Christianity after giving it a try? Or whose "worship practices" don't happen conform to what this "Christian believer" thinks they should?

Third, such programs are bound to simply become a new way to release prisoners early, and that sets aside the question, which I have, of whether Christianity with its intrinsicist ethics is going to help a criminal reform.

We are, after all, talking about prisoners here. What is the one thing a prisoner wants? Does it take a rocket scientist to wonder why a prisoner might volunteer for such a prison? The article provides a little clue:
[Rob] Boston[, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State,] said inmates in the program are more likely than others to be considered for parole, so "they're rewarded by the state for embracing Christianity." [bold added]
(The obvious joke here is that we've finally found a reason to parole a criminal that a leftist doesn't like!)

This is interesting because it flies in the face of the rationale people like Robinson give for what another similar prison calls, more accurately, its "24-hour per day Christ-centered, Bible-based programming."
"They'll walk out with a marketable skill, $1,000 in savings, embraced by a church and committed to their family," Robinson said. "Why not try it as a pilot project when nothing else is working? Working means they are not returning to prison."

A 2002 Justice Department study found that 67 percent of inmates released from state prisons committed at least one serious crime within three years.

Among reasons cited by criminologists for the high recidivism rate is a lack of rehabilitation programs such as vocational education, drug treatment and classes to prepare prisoners for life outside.
Will recidivism be reduced, though, if parole boards reward criminals who learn the right pieties to mouth at their reviews? Whether or not this "works", it will be a well-established practice, and thus much harder to get rid of, by the time its effectiveness has been studied decades from now.

I have a saying that comes from years of seeing criminals hiding behind Christianity to duck questions about their past misdeeds: Christianity is the last refuge of a scoundrel. (Amusingly, the print edition of the Chronicle shows Robinson, an ex-con, seated behind a Bible.)

And Andrew Dalton's old blog gives a particularly good example (You may need to search "Duncan" to reach the post.), of a prisoner-blogger whose archives are full of stuff that people who think this is a good idea will lap up. Dalton quotes the prisoner, serial child molester Joseph Edward Duncan III:
Each time I re-read what I wrote in Key West I understand a little more, and realize more what God has been trying t tell me for the longest time, and what I have been wanting to know for just as long. For instance, just now I realized the answer to a question I've been asking myself for years: What can I do to get people to realize how everything is connected? Well, I just found the answer hidden in my own ponderings from that Sunny Sunday morning: Any attempt to make the world a better place immediately and directly interfers with God's Harmonic intentions. All answers must come in there own time, and God has the timing already figured out according to reasons infinitely beyond my own ability to reason. So, there is nothing that I "can do," but instead I must continue to strive to give-in to God's Will, because it is through this "non-doing" that his Will can be seen. I'm growing a lot lately faster than I want at times.
Joe has seen the light! What a happy coincidence! I was just thinking about how I needed a baby sitter. Please let him out of prison.

"Faith-based" prisons are a terrible idea on many levels, and I have barely scratched the surface. This is definitely a part of the "Bush legacy" to which I am completely opposed.

-- CAV


2-12-06: Indeed, there are so many things wrong with this proposal that I missed what is perhaps the most important one! Namely: The major premise of this proposal is that prisons exist to reform criminals. This premise unavoidably leads one to propose some kind of moral education for inmates, not to mention forget what prisons are really for: protection of the general public from criminals. We lock up people such as Joseph Edward Duncan not to preach to them, but to keep them from harming anyone else. How do we know whether a prison "works"? Not by whether released inmates succeed in remaining out of prison, but by whether dangerous men are kept off the streets.

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