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December 13, 2006

NYT takes on IFI--Letters-to-the-Editor

Prayer The New York Times posted five letters-to-the-editor responding to its recent "In God's Name" installment criticizing the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI). A women's prison chaplain writes,

Those opposed to faith-based programs fail to realize the value of the act of visiting, of coming into a facility to offer something, of showing love and making a connection.

I would challenge these people not simply to tear down the few programs left in prisons, faulty though they may be, but to enter prisons themselves and build alternative programs with the love and commitment their evangelical brothers and sisters are showing.

This writer puts forth a good challenge that reveals who is doing the work of rehabilitation and corrections--and who is not:

As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a Christian who supports the separation of church and state, I normally do not find much agreement with evangelicals. But a good friend who spent many years in prison received no education, training, alcoholism treatment or other preparation when he was unceremoniously dumped, homeless and penniless, back into the society he left in the 1970s.

The 700,000 people a year released from prisons and jails, sometimes after decades of imprisonment and long-term solitary confinement, receive by default government-sponsored training in the violence and antisocial behavior necessary to stay alive in prison.

If we don’t want evangelicals to be the ones trying to change this situation, somebody else had better step up to the plate!

Another writer raises three good questions:

If alternative treatment plans are so effective in rehabilitating inmates and reducing recidivism, why are they not part of the regular program at prisons across the country? Why are prisons outsourcing one of their primary responsibilities?

If running these programs is so important to the religious groups that run them, why can’t these groups raise the money to finance these programs from their own supporters? Why do they need to use taxpayers’ money?

Is there any proof that inmates who get religion behind bars, whether it is fundamentalist Islam or evangelical Christianity, are less likely to commit crimes once they are released?

To answer that last question, here is the University of Pennsylvania study on IFI-Texas to which Mark Earley and Chuck Colson often refer. And here is one candidate who realizes the value of reforming our prisons.

Why not write a letter-to-the-editor to the New York Times or your local paper if it runs the same article ("Religion for a Captive Audience, Paid for by Taxes" -- Google the title, and you'll find plenty of newspapers that ran the column)?

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