Florida today will dedicate the nation’s first “faith-based” prison, the Christian Science Monitor says. The Lawtey institution, a medium-security facility in Raiford, Fla., will house inmates who choose to take part in rehabilitation run by volunteers from religious groups.
Every year, Florida’s prisons release about 25,000 inmates. Roughly the same number arrive; of those who are released, nearly half are arrested within five years.
At Lawtey, volunteers will act as personal mentors, offering support to each inmate both during incarceration and as they settle back into the community after release. Inmates will participate in the usual day-to-day prison activities, but during evenings and on weekends will take extra classes on issues like anger management, good parenting, and the effect of crime on victims. They will be run by representatives from a variety of faiths including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
As of today, 26 religions will be represented among Lawtey’s population. Belief in a god is not a requirement of the program. Of the 819 prisoners at Lawtey when the plan was announced in early December, fewer than 100 have said they do not wish to take part; they have been moved to other prisons.
Advocates of church-state separation are critical. “A state can no more create a faith-based prison than it could set up faith-based public schools or faith-based police departments,” says the Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has a lawsuit pending against a state-sponsored evangelical Christian project at a prison in Iowa. “Governor [Jeb] Bush is trying to merge religion and government.”