8th Cir. Says No Public Funding for Faith-Based Prison Program

Via Crooks and Liars, the 8th Circuit has struck down public funding for faith-based prisons.

The opinion is here (pdf.)

In the present case, plaintiffs demonstrated (and defendants do not seriously contest) that the InnerChange program resulted in inmate enrollment in a program dominated by Bible study, Christian classes, religious revivals, and church services.
The DOC also provided less tangible aid to the InnerChange program. Participants were housed in living quarters that had, in previous years, been used as an “honor unit,” and which afforded residents greater privacy than the typical cell. Among other benefits, participants were allowed more visits from family members and had greater
access to computers.


....In determining whether this direct aid violates the Establishment Clause, this court must “ask whether the government acted with the purpose of advancing or inhibiting religion, and . . . whether the aid has the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.”

....To analyze whether aid has the effect of advancing or endorsing religion, three criteria are decisive: whether government aid (1) results in governmental indoctrination; (2) defines recipients by reference to religion; or (3) creates excessive entanglement.

....Because the indoctrination and definition criteria indicate that InnerChange had the effect of advancing or endorsing religion during the contract years 2000 to 2004, the direct aid to InnerChange violated the Establishment clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions.

Unfortunately, the Court did not outlaw faith-based prison programs, only public funding for them. It seems, in another section of the opinion, to approve of the programs:

In the present case, the district court concluded that the DOC’s purpose in contracting with and funding InnerChange was secular: offering comprehensive programing to inmates and reducing recidivism. This conclusion is well-supported.

The DOC officials were “confronted with the secular, pragmatic needs of running a state prison facility with sufficient programming in a tight budgetary environment.” The DOC officials “considered the long term nature of the InnerChange program, its supportive communal environment, and its extensive post-release care program, as the best indicators that the InnerChange program could reduce recidivism . . . .” In this case, the government did not act with the purpose of advancing or inhibiting religion.

So the aid had the effect of advancing or endorsing religion, and the program had the effect of advancing or endorsing religion, but the state, in allowing the program at its prisons, did not act with the purpose of advancing or endorsing religion.

I think it's a distinction without a difference. The program teaches Christian principles and provides rewards to inmates who participate. That should be enough for it to be considered both a violation of the Establishment clause and discriminatory.

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    Exactly (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 02:13:45 PM EST
    Unfortunately, the Court did not outlaw faith-based prison programs, only public funding for them.
    Because prison isn't brutal enough, we should take away something that makes it slightly less so.

    So blinded by anti-religious zealotry that your life-long defense attorney pro-defendant/pro-convict principled stances go right out the window.

    What's next, no gvt employees named Mary?

    An inmate.... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 02:47:03 PM EST
    shouldn't have to submit to religous indoctrination in order to escape the brutality of prison life.  

    That being said, I've got no beef with privately funded faith based programs, in fact I encourage them if it improves prison life for inmates of faith...but the state should only be funding non-denominational programs. The seperation of church and state demands nothing less.


    Indeed, (none / 0) (#4)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 03:06:22 PM EST
    the debate of sep of church and state is more important than actual human beings.

    That's a cold position kdog, I hope it's not taken lightly.


    Are you under the assumption.... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 03:28:53 PM EST
    the state will pull the funding if the programs switch from faith-based to non-denominational?

    That may well be true, but I would hope the funding would remain the same and new programs that don't involve the endorsement of religion could be started to reduce the brutality of prison life and try to help inmates turn their lives around.

    I am concerned that prisoners who do not accept Jesus as their lord and savior would be denied the access to special priveledges afforded to their fellow inmates who believe in that stuff.  That ain't right, and it certainly isn't equality under the law....am I wrong?

    I do disagree with Jeralyn in that I have no beef with private money being spent on faith-based programs....as long as non-believers are given the option to equal access.  Any private entity working to improve the plight of our prisoners gets my praise.


    Apparently, (none / 0) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 04:09:09 PM EST
    in prison you can choose voluntarily to avail yourself of many various programs. Many, if not, most are not faith-based and all of them, presumably, have "special privileges" associated with them.

    Since there are many inmates who don't choose to participate in any of these programs (faith-based or not) and therefore don't have access to the "special privileges" that the inmates who do choose to participate get access to, is it your position that all prison programs be abolished?


    My problem (none / 0) (#10)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 07:03:18 AM EST
     with what Jeralyn wrote is that taken literally it would mean, among many other things, forbidding volunteer ministers , rabbis, imams, etc. from being permitted to use facilities at prison to meet with inmate groups if there was any religious message involved.

      That literla position would seem to be predicated on the belief that only the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment applies and the rest of the 1st such as little things like freedom of religion and freedom of religion  are  dead letters when it comes to the incarcerated or those who wish to communicate with them.

      Sometimes it seems there is nowhere to turn because whether you take the left or right path too many people want to make the destination a repressive authoritarian system based on power dictating to those who lack it.


    No.... (none / 0) (#11)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 08:19:18 AM EST
    my position is the government should not be in the business of endorsing/funding religous indoctrination.

    It's opening a can of worms to fund a christian group.  If I understand correctly, if the government funds a christian group they are obligated to fund a muslim, jewish, wiccan, hindu, pagan, sikh, what have you group. Otherwise the government is endorsing christianity.  What a mess...better to stay out of the god business and leave that stuff to people in the private sector. Look at the muslim world...god and government mix like oil and water.  We don't wanna go there.

    Plus, and this might be a stretch, but I could see this spreading to public schools after prisons.  It's bad enough I have to help pay for bombs and marijuana eradication...don't make me chip in for bibles and preacher's salaries too, a man can only take so much:)  


    Well, (none / 0) (#12)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 08:33:10 AM EST
      allowing persons with a religious message to use facilities built with public money to convey a religious message is "funding" that group.

      Would your worries  be assauged if the government charged  fair market rent for the use of rooms at prisons? should those who wish to meet with inmates for non-religious reasons also be charged rent? If not, is the government  discriminating against one group of peole people because of their religion and the nature of their expression? Is that consonant with the guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of expression? Is this not a whole big can of worms too? Do we make an inmate's mother, wife or child pay rent to see him in some  vigilant excursion into enbsuring government does nothing in any circumstances that could cause any small group of people to scream about promotion of religion?

      Or, do we act reasonably with a little common sense and wisdom?


    I can let the use of the facilities slide.... (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 09:12:09 AM EST
    is that reasonable enough?

    I question the wisdom of using taxpayer funds to teach that only an imaginary friend in the clouds can save you....you bet.  I feel a resonable compromise is to allow churches or whoever access to prison facilities to help inmates in their own godly way.  The state, otoh, should only cut checks for secular programs.  Otherwise all the various denominations of snake oil salesman will come running for their slice...and the government will have set the precedent that they will pay for it.  Heck, maybe I'll start the Church of Mother Earth, get a check from Uncle Sam, and head to the pen to hand out the reefer sacrament....sound good?


    I think it is. (none / 0) (#14)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 09:44:29 AM EST
      I have issues with the program described in the opinion or ones similar to it because it seems the program is used to accord  prison benefits to certain inmates that are not available equally to persons of any faith or no faith and it is not clear other groups had equal opportunity to establish programs according the same benefits.

      I also have a problem with the government subsidizing staffing  or material costs for religious programs.

      I would not have a problem with privately funded programs being permitted to use the facilties free of charge and for the prison to award benefits to perticipants in religious programs if (and this would be a difficlut if to achieve in the real world) equal access were available to all faiths or "individual improvement" programs which involved no religious content. (By "access" that means that from the inmates perspective HE has access to a program in his chosen faith or no faith that allows him the same benefits not just that any group that wants to organize a program is permitted to do so if it can fund it and meet all the necessary regulations).

      As I said,  that would be very difficult to achieve in the real world and if it could not then no government (prison) awarded benefits should be made available based on programs run by any particular faith which inmates cannot receive without following the program of that religious group. BUT, and this a huge but, I still think the religious program should be allowed to operate  and inmates allowed to particpate with the understanding the prison could afford them no special privileges as a result of that participation. those inmates who choose to participate in a protestant Christian program because they believe it will help them should not be denied the opportunity because there is not Catholic or  Muslim or Jewish program if that program does not cause the prison to give the inmate benefits.


    I think in the real world (none / 0) (#18)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 02:12:31 PM EST
    just the opportunity to get out of your cell or get off the yard, even if only for a 1 hour faith-based program, or a continuing ed math class, or a rehearsal for a prison play or concert or what have you, is in reality a huge benefit not afforded to those who choose not to participate in the various programs.

    iow, all prison programs offer benefits to only a select group of inmates - ie., those who choose to participate - and not the population at large.

    So, to be consistent, if it's the inequitable assignation of benefits via prison programs that's the crux of the issue, then it would make logical sense to demand all prison programs should be abolished since they all provide inequitable benefits.


    Yep that is a stretch. (none / 0) (#16)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 01:59:17 PM EST
    Although, to me, it is an even greater stretch to suggest gvt funded faith-based programs in prisons equate to the Muslim world of god and gvt.

    I did not and am not advocating for state-funded faith-based prison programs. J's apparent blanket dismissal of allowing any faith-based programs to exist w/in prison walls is what got me going.

    Although, now that you've made me think about it, I think it's undeniable that for some, anyway, it is their faith and their participation in faith-based prison programs that keeps them from losing hope and possibly suffering psychological, emotional as well as perhaps physical health problems while incarcerated.

    In fact, I think you can make a reasonable argument that since the state has the moral and legal obligation to provide mental and physical health care to those whom it incarcerates, and since faith-based programs can in many ways legitimately be identified as providing necessary emotional and psychological support and care for those who need it, and that for some, anyway, if they were denied these faith-based programs, would suffer from deteriorating mental health, I'm not sure the state can deny providing faith-based services to the incarcerated as a part of their health care obligation to inmates.

    fwiw, the gvt is already involved in providing faith-based services for inmates whether they be christian, muslim, jewish, wiccan (scroll down for Texas), or hindu (via yoga). Couldn't find anything about Sikhs, but, rest assured, I'm sure that'll be coming soon...


    Thanks for the research.... (none / 0) (#17)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 02:07:56 PM EST
    I don't think we are that far off in our positions.  Faith-based programs are fine as well as the prison administrators don't play favorites and they aren't taxpayer funded.

    My own anti-religion bias aside, I do realize religion helps a lot of people get through life, especially in a place as hopeless as prison.  Private investment of time and money should be encouraged within our prisons, faith-based or not.  Whatever works....


    I don't know kdog, (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 02:19:41 PM EST
    as I said in my comment, I'm starting to think that since faith-based programs can/are a requirement for the mental health of some inmates, I'm not sure the state can deny funding such programs.

    I don't know sarc.... (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 02:42:47 PM EST
    If you could argue that ministering is a mental health issue, I could argue reefer use is a mental health issue.

    One guy says he will go mad without religous instruction, next guy says he will go mad without a spliff, next guy says he will go mad without a tv in his cell.  All may well be true.  Where does it end? Is the state obligated to provide a minister, a joint, and a tv to these 3 hypothetical people for their mental health?


    That having faith and participating in (none / 0) (#22)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 03:08:28 PM EST
    faith-based programs may well be a large and necessary part of some people's mental health is something I don't think is in question.

    That that position may lead to other, possibly less substantive positions, is not a reason to ignore those who do need their religious faith and its programs/rituals/whatever in order to be healthy, if indeed there are such people.


    I disagree..... (none / 0) (#24)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 03:33:22 PM EST
    about religious instruction being a necessary component of mental health.  I don't think that is a settled issue at all.  Religion alone...maybe, but all you need for that is your mind and a belief.  That is something not even prison can deny you.

    Well, I imagine for some people (none / 0) (#25)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 03:46:41 PM EST
    the programs themselves (church services, whatever) are a significant part of their faith and thereby their emotional/psychological health.

    I'm not particularly invested in the argument though, it's just something that occurred to me as I read your comments.

    I wouldn't be surprised if it's an argument that's made in the courts, at some point anyway...


    It's an interesting argument..... (none / 0) (#28)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 09:51:19 AM EST
    to be sure.  Brings up lots of questions.  What is mental health exactly, how do you define it?  Is the state obligated to provide an enviroment conducive to mental health to its prisoners?  Is it even possible to be mentally healthy in prison?

    Not Equal (none / 0) (#9)
    by squeaky on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 09:41:04 PM EST
    Now, Colson seems to do genuinely good work, but today Brian Montopoli points to a Washington Post story reporting that InnerChange is the subject of a pair of lawsuits in Iowa:

    According to the suits, about 200 Iowa prisoners pray and memorize Bible verses under the guidance of Christian staff in prison rooms lined with displays of scripture passages. In return, they live in an "honor" unit where they are housed two to a cell, permitted to leave their cells at night and granted many other privileges [including keys to their cell doors, private bathrooms, free phone calls -- even access to big-screen TVs].

    Kevin Drum


    I hope, and suspect, (none / 0) (#3)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 03:02:46 PM EST
     that she did not mean the phrase you quoted:

    "Unfortunately, the Court did not outlaw faith-based prison programs, only public funding for them"

      to be read broadly to mean no faith based programs should be allowed but merely meant that a program such as the one described in the opinion should not be allowed even if publicly funded. If I am wrong then that is one of the more profoundly frightening things i have ever heard.

    that should be (none / 0) (#5)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 03:07:32 PM EST
    "even if PRIVATELY funde" in the preceding post.

    Hence my comment. Hopefully she misspoke.

    I was expecting her to clarify (none / 0) (#15)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 01:33:26 PM EST
     but she has been here and not responded, so who knows.

    to and comfortable in her/TL's positions, she/TL throws out some wacko comment like the one we're discussing that makes me realize just how far past the fringe she and TL really are. This is not said disrespectfully, mind you, it's purely my objective observation.

    I don't think she's past the fringe. (none / 0) (#26)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 04:43:00 PM EST
      (although her stated position in the orginal post if intended to mean precisely what it says would be miles past). I do think she has a tendency not to think about the consequences of ideas she expresses beyond the application to the very narrow example before her at any given moment.  

      That is a common problem among people of all stripes including middle-of-the-roaders (not suggesting she's one of those either). Lots of people are not very deep thinkers or adept at perceiving where the logic behind a thought  leads, but that doesn't make them fringe extremists. To me it's only those who refuse to think about what they have advocated after something they have said has been challenged and dismiss any challenge to their reactive expression if it causes them to  acknowledge complexity which simple resort to ideological playbooks can't address.

      We have some  of those folks here but I don't think she is one of them.


    Fair enough. (none / 0) (#27)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 04:56:01 PM EST
    I'll make sure to point out other equally remarkable positions as they (infrequently) occur.

    The issue was public funding for a religious (none / 0) (#23)
    by JSN on Wed Dec 05, 2007 at 03:11:00 PM EST
    program. Nobody asked that the program be ended and it is continuing with private funding.

    My problem is that they cook-the-books on the way they compute their cure rates. They don't count the prisoners they exclude because they have poor prospects of improving (in other words they bias their sample). From a resource allocation point of view that is sensible but it means their cure rates are about average not exceptional as they claim.

    If the state funded religious programs they would have the right and economic power to dictate how the the program was operated. The churches would be putting their necks in a noose.

      but Jerlayn's comment certainly can be read to ask for that. She still has not clarified exactly what she meant.

    They have a Chapel at the Iowa Prison at Anamosa (none / 0) (#30)
    by JSN on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 11:32:54 AM EST
    and I recall meeting a chaplain but I don't know how he was paid.
    The chaplain at a neighboring county jail is paid with private funds.

    A chaplain has been a official of the US House of Representatives since 1789 and I assume they are paid with public funds but it appears they bring in guest chaplains so that all religions are represented.

    I think the rule is that they cannot favor one religion over all others. I wish Jerlayn would clarify he position because I doubt she meant what she said.


    Bear in mind (none / 0) (#31)
    by katmandu on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 07:03:28 PM EST
    even prisoners have the freedom of religion.
    I don't have any problem with faith based
    programs, just as long as one group is not
    singled out for better perks.
    Know what I mean?  Equal treatment for all