Former Maryland prison inmate Richard Murray returned last month to prison with a message sanctioned by the administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich: Have faith. The Associated Press says the The 26-year-old ex-thief and recovering heroin addict now is an evangelical Christian minister. He preached the benefits of a Christian life-skills program called Rights of Passage that he said helped him land a job after his release last year.
Rights of Passage, developed in-house, is among several faith-based elements of Project RESTART, which stands for Re-entry, Enforcement and Services Targeting Addiction, Rehabilitation and Treatment. The project, which will be expanded to all 27 state institutions, includes more secular counseling and drug treatment. Faith-based prison programs, many run by evangelical Christian volunteers, have been promoted in California, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio as having a calming, constructive influence on inmates. There is no clear evidence that religious programs are more effective than secular ones in increasing prison safety or reducing recidivism, says the American Correctional Association, the largest association of corrections professionals. “Having an inmate involved in any sort of program tends to make for a happier inmate, reduce idleness and make the operation of a facility safer. But as for going into specifics – faith-based versus nonfaith-based, any discernible difference – I’m not sure anybody can answer that question,” said Joe Weedon of the association.