Candidates favor ‘faith-based’ solutions to public problems
The Layman Online, August 3, 2000
The wall between church and state has not begun crumbling, but some politicians – including George W. Bush and Al Gore Jr. – are chipping away.
Bush and Gore both favor what are called “faith-based” solutions to thorny public issues, although the degree of their endorsements differ. Gore adds a caveat – that faith groups must not be allowed to proselytize when they receive government assistance for faith-based programs.
Bush is not on record favoring any such restriction. To the contrary, Bush approved the nation’s first full-time Christian prison program in Houston in 1997.
The program, called InnerChange Freedom Initiative, was developed by Prison Fellowship, which was founded by Charles Colson. Jack Cowley, a former prison warden who is director of operations for InnerChange, was granted a prime-time slot to describe the program to the Republican National Convention on August 1.
InnerChange is unapologetically Christian. Inmates, who volunteer for the program, do not have to be Christians, but they are required to participate in Bible studies and attend classes in which Biblical principles are emphasized.
Colson described the program recently during one of his daily radio broadcasts.
“Inmates … spend their day working at their jobs or studying for their high school equivalency exams,” he said. “They also attend classes to develop life skills and to gain spiritual maturity. Evenings are filled with more classes and discipleship seminars that run until 10 p.m. – no TV, no wasted time.”
Community service, restitution and mentoring by volunteers from area churches are other key components of the ministry.
The program has had life-changing impact. Colson cited the case of one prisoner, serving time for fatally stabbing his stepmother. The prisoner continued to deny the crime 13 years after the death of his stepmother.
But because of the Biblical emphasis on confession and repentance, “James felt the Lord was telling him that if he was going to stay in the program, he would have to stop living a lie,” Colson said. “He had to tell his parents he did stab his stepmother to death.
“That was not easy, for after 13 years of lying, James was concerned about how his parents would react. He asked his fellow inmates to pray with him. When he told his parents the truth, they were indeed shocked, as he expected. But they told James they would continue to love and support him.”
That confession also had an impact on other prisoners. “Here’s a lifer who showed a dramatic proof of the reality of Christ,” Cowley says. “He’s a role model.”
“I’ve met hardened criminals, including six-time losers, who have been transformed totally,” Colson says. “I’ve met men who turned down parole – imagine that – so they could stay in prison and complete the program.”
The state pays for the cost of the program – including some staff from Prison Fellowship – but expects to recover much more through reduced recidivism (returning to prison for another crime after being released).
The program is for 18-months. Colson said on July 31 that 47 men had completed the eighteen months and been released, and “not one is back in custody.” Nationally, recidivism is higher than 70 percent.
Nationally, prison operating costs average more than $30,000 annually per inmate.