Faith-Based Prison Programs Fueling Major Legal Debate


Since 2000, courts have cited more than a dozen programs in prisons for having unconstitutionally used tax money to pay for religious activities or evangelism aimed at prisoners, recovering addicts, job seekers, teenagers, and children, says the New York Times. Still, the programs are proliferating. The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest U.S. prison management company, with 65 facilities and 71,000 inmates, is substantially expanding its religion-based curriculum and now has 22 institutions offering residential programs similar to an Iowa one that was struck down by a federal judge. The federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs at least five multifaith programs, is preparing to seek bids for a single-faith prison program as well.

Some constitutional lawyers say new federal rules may bar the government from imposing any special requirements for how faith-based programs are audited. Typically, the only penalty imposed when constitutional violations are detected is the cancellation of future financing – with no requirement that money improperly used for religious purposes be repaid. The judge in the Iowa case ordered the prison ministry to repay more than $1.5 million in government money, saying the constitutional violations were serious and clearly foreseeable. His ruling has been appealed by the prison ministry and is fiercely protested by the attorneys general of nine states and attorneys for those advocating greater government accommodation of religious groups. The ministry's allies include the Bush administration, which argued that the repayment order could derail its efforts to draw more religious groups into taxpayer-financed programs.


Comments are closed.