Indiana prison officials will unveil a new program today based on the idea that religious faith may be the key to turning a convict’s life around, the Indianapolis Star reports. Three state prisons — one each for men, women and juveniles — are joining a growing trend in corrections by creating segregated housing units for prisoners who volunteer to be immersed in religious training. To appease critics who call the faith dorms a tool for state-supported religion, officials will offeri a secular track that would focus on character building. Most of the first 202 volunteers are going the faith-based route.
Jacqueline Ayers of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union called the idea “an unconstitutional violation of church and state.” The program has been dubbed PLUS, or Purposeful Living Units Serve. The most-often quoted study of faith-based prisons, a 2003 analysis done by University of Pennsylvania researchers, found that graduates of a faith-based program in Texas established by then-Gov. George W. Bush were less likely to get rearrested or return to jail than those not in the program. Critics say that when the analysis includes inmates who began but dropped out, the program actually had a higher recidivism rate than a comparison group.