The Bush administration is hailing a study produced by an organization that does religious-based prison counseling, saying it cuts the rate at which offenders return to prison. Mark Early is president of Prison Fellowship, an organization founded by convicted Watergate burglar Charles Colson after he served prison time after the Nixon administration. He calls it a “Christ-centered” program that tries to reduce recidivism so men released from prison don’t return. But four months ago a lawsuit filed over the program charged that it uses public money to pay for a religious program that benefits only some of the prisoners. Barry Lynn is executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which filed the suit. Lynn says Prison Fellowship tells religious and private donors that it’s a “Christ-centered” program 24 hours a day, but tells government agencies it can separate some activities as not religious, to get government money. Men who join the “InnerChange” program are all moved to one cellblock together and take part in activities from bible study to job training. Early says Iowa’s a leader, just the second state in the nation to have the “Inner Change” program at the prison in Newton. Early says research done for the group found prisoners who’ve done their time won’t return to crime if they’ve joined the faith-based ministry during their first sentence. Early says 17-percent of those who completed the program were rearrested, compared with 35-percent of a control group, and 8-percent were actually returned to prison. Barry Lynn says there’s nothing new in the study released this week. Lynn says most of the people who leave the Newton prison don’t return, and there’s no evidence faith-based programs work better than secular programs that offer the same thing. Lynn says the taxpayers of Iowa shouldn’t have to pay for a religious program or for anyone’s spiritual conversion. Lynn says the state of Iowa and Prison Fellowship have asked the suit be dismissed, but he doesn’t think that will happen. The InnerChange program’s paid for out of telephone fees charged to all inmates who make or receive calls at the Newton prison, and “Americans United” charge it’s a price paid by all inmates that benefits only some of the prisoners.
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