Some Florida juvenile offenders will be able to join the nation’s first federally funded faith-based mentor program for young criminals, the Associated Press reports. Participation will require the consent of the youth and his or her parents. Children and volunteer mentors of any faith can sign up, but the administration will be Christian-based. “If we can get good results, what we want is to then make the model available to other states,” said Robert Flores, director of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is funding the program.
Current detainees receive religious services only if private ministries or volunteers choose to come to the residential centers. Each mentor will be trained to work with a detainee and the child’s family during detention and until at least one year after the youth’s release. The $3.5 million, three-year program will serve 200 youths per year at six residential locations across the state. Faith-based groups received $1.17 billion in grants from federal agencies in 2003, part of an effort by President Bush to open federal money to religious social service organizations. A spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that if the program “promotes religion with taxpayer dollars, there’s a good chance it would be declared unconstitutional.”