Faith Based Prisons Not Working

By: Victoria Langley
By: Victoria Langley

A new study finds no evidence that faith based prisons have any more success at keeping ex-cons on the straight and narrow than traditional lockups.

Researchers at Florida State University say while the religious programming may help some inmates, it also raises other concerns. But state officials insist Florida’s faith based prisons are turning troubled lives around.

The nation’s largest faith based prison was opened last November in Wakulla County with much fanfare, but researchers say a new study finds no reliable statistics to back up claims faith based prisons reduce recidivism rates any more than traditional lockups.

FSU Professor Dan Mears, who headed the study, says any claims can’t be backed up.

“What you see, to be blunt, is garbage. There’s literally no ability to make comparisons.”

While he agrees faith based programs probably help some inmates, he says other components like the extra counseling, anger management and drug treatment may be what’s really working.

“If someone ends up in that program, it might be because that’s where you go to get better treatment, so there’s an element of coercion then at that point that you have to be concerned about.”

But corrections officials say Florida’s faith based programs do work. They point to lower disciplinary problems in the faith based prisons and dormitories as proof.

Franchatta Barber helps oversee the program. She says it’s not about pushing religion; it’s about pushing inmates to get their acts together in whatever way they can.

“If anyone looks to what they call a higher power that can lend assistance, we let them go for it.’’

But the reality is two out of three inmates will end up rearrested no matter which programs they go through.

Florida has three faith based prisons and seven faith based dormitories at other facilities.
Marion Correctional Institution is under consideration for conversion to a faith based prison as well. (Others are Lawtey Correctional Institution, Wakulla Correctional Institution and Hillsborough Correctional Institution.)

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