Jails For Jesus: An Update

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Today the NYT has a long piece on the status of taxpayer funded, faith-based programs aimed at captive audiences, like prisoners and rehab patients.

That’s a story that Mother Jones reported back in 2003, in Samantha Shapiro’s piece: “Jails for Jesus.” In it she chronicles how Prison Fellowship Ministries—a group founded by Watergate’s Chuck Colson—got backing from then-Gov and now President Bush to preach to inmates via its InnerChange program. As Samantha writes:

InnerChange represents the cutting edge of President Bush’s faith-based initiatives, which seek to have religious groups take over social services once provided by state and federal agencies and, in so doing, fulfill two goals dear to many conservatives: bringing more people to Christ and shrinking government.

Prison Fellowship Ministries is a $56 million dollar a year operation, and given its treatment record of those who do not see the light, in June a federal judge ruled in that PFM’s InnerChange program amounted to an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money for religious indoctrination. That case is now on appeal, which is what the NYT details. What the paper declined to get into is the really juicy stuff that Samantha reported, namely:

* InnerChange’s programs, which include perks like pizza parties and music lessons to the inmates who sign up, are largely paid for the canteen and exhorbitant phone rates that the general prison population pays for out of the wages they earn from stamping plates or answering customer service calls.

*InnerChange promises to “cure” homosexuality via exposure to Christ—not perhaps surprising, since Colson hawks a brochure he wrote called “Rick Santorum Is Right”—through a form of therapy its officials told Samantha was “a little like AA for homosexuals.” The encounter group, she was told, would be led by a man who “had a reputation across the state for being a flaming homosexual,” while the other two members were “former cross-dressers.” Samantha was then ushered into a room, unattended by any staff or guards, where it became evident that the inmates undergoing therapy

“were not simply ‘cross-dressers’ but serious sex offenders; Hoffman said he’d attempted to sodomize a blind man, and Gavin had sodomized his four-year-old daughter. Hoffman attended InnerChange because he’d been thrown out of the state-run sex-offender program, which Gavin had completed.”

As Samantha notes:

“Letting Christ-based programs ‘cure’ sex offenders—exempting them from state programs that employ aversion therapy and normative counseling, and releasing them into society armed primarily with polemics about sin—seems risky, to say the least, but [InnerChange official Larry] Furnish is confident the state will go for it. ‘We already offer GED, substance-abuse, and pre-release programs. If we get sex-offender treatment, we’ll have the whole ball of wax for the state at a bargain-basement price,’ he said.”

That’s your tax dollars at work, folks.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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