Sunday, December 10, 2006

Born-again drug rehab in prison has to refund tax money

The Bush administration has been pouring American taxpayers' money into Christian evangelical drug programs in prisons -- and at least one federal judge is making them pay it back.

Inmates in one rehab unit in the state prison at Newton, Iowa, got better cells, better food, books, computers, live music, conjugal visits and other benefits -- provided they could convince the evangelical Christians running the program that they were buying into its religious ideology.

One Catholic inmate left the program in disgust, saying the born-again fundamentalist indoctrination was violating the faith he was brought up in.

The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the blessing of then-governor Bush — says on its Web site that it seeks “to ‘cure’ prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems” and showing inmates “how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past.” See earlier blog item.

This past June, chief federal judge Robert Pratt (photo) of the southern federal district of Iowa, held that this program was unconstitutional under the religion clause of the First Amendment, and ordered the program to pay the money back to the government -- more than $1.5 million of it.

The opinion is up on appeal, and the Bush administration is one of the challengers.

Programs like Iowa's that funnel federal tax money into undisguised religious programs in penal institutions have multiplied under the Bush administration, says an article in today's New York Times by writer Diana Henriques. Source. Henriques also wrote earlier items on church-state relations, noted in this blog here and here.

Private corporations who manage tens of thousands of prisoners, such as the Corrections Corporation of America, are running programs similar to the one in Iowa in 22 prisons, and more are planned. Even the federal Bureau of Prisons, a government agency, is planning to launch Christian evangelical drug rehabs, Henriques reports.

Henriques merits a Pulitzer for her thorough investigative reporting into this controversial issue. For one outraged blogger's reaction to the Iowa program Henriques describes, check out Off the Grid.

2 comments: said...

Open Letter To: "Born-again drug rehab in prison has to refund tax money"

U.S. Constitution, Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .

We are sure it is no secrete to our FedCURE members, supporters and friends, that we are strongly in favor of faith-based programs in prisons. Regardless of how they are funded.

First, let us prefix that this opinion is based on our combined, 65 years of federal prison experience--behind the fence. Secondly, in any discussion on this subject it is important to consider that over the last decade and a half Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) budgets have been drastically hacked and slashed in every corner. Even BOP employees have taken hits with the elimination of positions and overtime. There has been no mercy in eliminating funding for inmate services and programs. And for what few programs that do remain there is a one or more year wait list. No funding for the BOP to administer and or to implement inmate programs for example, rendered recent attempts to enact The Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act (LERA) hollow and meaningless. LERA would have allowed inmates to gain early release by completing inmate rehabilitation programs. The Superior Programming Achievement provisions of H.R. 3072 - the proposed Parole Bill, allowing for extra good time credits to gain earlier release, would also suffer if inmates do not have programs to complete to earn extra good time days. The use of extra good time awards is a valuable management tool for the BOP and provides important incentives for inmates to maintain clear conduct and in some cases to become better people.

What is worse, however, is that in 1984 Congress enacted the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. This Act, inter alia, ushered in The Sentencing Reform Act--eliminating parole and establishing the famous sentencing guidelines, which the Supreme Court recently ruled were unconstitutional. Largely unnoticed by many, the Act abandoned the practice of rehabilitation of inmates during their imprisonment. In lieu thereof, Congress adopted a practice of incapacitation. This has been the model since 1984. And it has been a disaster. Recidivism rates have never been higher. However, public opinion has strongly opposed this model and its ill effects and the pendulum is changing back towards a rehabilitation model. For example, H.R. 1704 - The Second Chance Act had bi partisan support in the 109th Congress and would have passed this past week, but not for one lone hold out legislator. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican - Oklahoma.

In our opinion, contra to the ACLU, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other organizations arguments opposing faith-based prison programs, is that the Constitution is not offended in any manner by the governments funding of faith-based programs in the context of a prison setting. The funding of faith-based programs for prisoners does not violate the "establishment" clause. On the contrary, having no faith-based programs in prisons does, in our view, run a foul of the "free exercise thereof" clause. Without the BOP offering faith-based programs inmates do not have the right of choice to participate--the right to "free exercise thereof." This is fundamentally unfair in that just because the prison gates have slammed behind them, inmates do not leave their Constitutional rights outside the gates, e.g., freedom to exercise religion. In our opinion, the BOP has been in violation of the Constitution by not offering faith-based programs to inmates during their incarceration. Having no program from which to chose prohibits the exercise of religion. This new direction towards rehabilitation by the BOP, albeit, via faith-based inmate programs is heartening.

Ninety-eight percent of people in prison will be released. Over 45,000 federal inmates are released each year. Regardless of your faith-based beliefs, statistics prove that the many benefits of faith-based programs, in a prison setting, enormeneously out weigh any other type of inmate programming. Especially no programs at all. Inmate assault rates are drastically reduced. Recidivism rates are drastically reduced. A more kinder, gentler person develops of those inmates whom participate. The bottom line is that the faith-based inmate programs work. And because all inmates have a choice to opt in or out of these programs, the rights of each and every inmate is protected.

On last note. We are big fans of the ACLU's work in the area of prisoner rights. And it is with heavy heart that we express serious concerns over their move to destabilize the Federal Bureau of Prisons efforts to return to inmate rehabilitation by implementing faith-based inmate programs. What is more perplexing is their failure to recognize that the BOP has been violating the Constitution by not offering faith-based programs to inmates during their incarceration.

In conclusion, we fear that the ACLU, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the other organizations who oppose faith-based prison programs are misguided in their efforts. Their argument must fail because in the end the results would be absurd and truly disheartening to the majority of Americans. It is said that a picture says a thousand words. Therefore, and to drive home our point, we close with a picture to illustrate how their story ends. Please imagine, if you will, in the photo below, a court ordering the removal of every cross, paid for with federal funds, on federally owned land!

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration

maintains 124 national cemeteries in 39 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

Cross Headstones and Markers

P.O. Box 15667
Plantation, Florida 33318-5667

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E-fax: (408) 549-8935

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Martin Nicolaus said...

You write with an enthusiasm worthy of a better cause. I join in your dismay at the slashing of prisoner care budgets under the Bush administration, especially because the bulk of new prisoners arrive with substance abuse issues and desperately require more rather than less treatment. However, as the lavish outpouring of tax revenues for Christian fundamentalist programs demonstrates, the money is there. It's just being misdirected into fundy religious programs as an administration payoff to its right-wing born-again vote-farmers.

What's really happening is not real treatment but a charade of religious conversion. Any program that defines addiction as a "sin" forfeits the claim to be considered treatment. Furthermore, the claim that these programs result in genuine religious conversion requires a degree of naivete that is astonishing from someone who claims to be familiar with the prison environment. It does not take a very clever con to realize that donning the cloak of the prodigal son is the ticket to better cells, better food, entertainment, conjugal visits, computers, and all the other benefits that our tax money pays for. Since when is genuine faith obtained through bribes?

These so-called treatment programs are nothing but self-promotion rackets to line the pockets of politically connected people who for the most part have not the slightest qualifications or credentials to engage in chemical dependency treatment. I object to my tax money being wasted on this garbage and I salute Americans for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, and other organizations for stepping in to blow the whistle on this corruption.