Thursday, November 24, 2005

The danger of faith-based prisons

When I first saw the term "faith-based prison," I burst out laughing. What the hell, I wondered, is a faith-based prison? To get my question answered, I turned to Florida governor and Constitution-basher Jeb Bush, who has opened Wakulla Correctional Institution in Crawfordville (not making this up), Florida. Wakulla's 1,600 inmates are expected to have low recitivism rates because they have regular prayer sessions, religious studies, choir practice and life skills training.

Naturally, people who care about church/state separation are upset by the existence of Wakulla, which purports to serve inmates of any religion or no religion, but of course, it's all about Jesus all the time.

There is another danger to operating such a prison, however, and that danger has to do with addiction. An extremely high percentage of prison populations suffer from alcohol and drug addiction; indeed, many inmate are behind bars because of their drug habits. People who suffer from serious addictions often temporarily put aside the addiction that has gotten them into trouble and substitute it with another, "acceptable" addiction. One of the most popular of these is compulsive religiosity.

When I was in the alcohol and drug treatment profession, I saw a great number of people "cured" by "finding God," only they became very extreme and dysfunctional about their new-found religion, and it caused them to do many of the things they did when they were drinking or drugging. Their thinking was warped, they hurt those around them, and they neglected their social and psychological growth. And, as I have already mentioned, the "cure" was temporary.

Teaching life skills is a good idea, and of course, inmates should be permitted to visit with the clergypeople of their choice. But introducing a number of addicts in a closed setting to regular prayer meetings and Bible study is a sure-fire formula for creating an addiction to religion.


My son used to work as a jailer and a dispatcher for a small county jail. A few years ago, our small town was traumatized by the second murder in its history. Three boys murdered another. It was all the town could talk about for the longest time. Two of the boys got 20 years, the ring leader got life. My son said as soon as the boys were booked into jail, they all three found religion, asked for a pastor, and proclaimed a new way of life. They are all in prison now, the one who has the life sentenced, was recently moved to a different prison because he got the state preachers behind me due to his new found love of god and his calling to be a preacher. So, he is in a better, if there is such a thing, prison. He is so absorbed into this religious calling thing, that he sends out newsletters and tries to get to get out to go to the schools to preach! I wonder if he were released tomorrow, would he still be so wrapped up in this religious zeal of his. This is a kid who was so addicted to meth that he robbed to get it and eventually beat a kid to death with a bat. He used to write to me, I wanted to know his story so that I might write about it, but then his letters were never about his crime, his remoarse, or any of that, but what he was doing to expand the news of god. He also writes poetry and sermons. He is just weird. The last time I heard anything abouth him, someone had smuggled drugs in and he managed to get some and was using drugs in prison. He failed a urine test and lost some of his privilideges.

By Blogger zelda1, at 7:43 AM  

When I lived in New Orelans, we got this cable channel that was about all different kinds of religions. In addition to the evangelical stuff, there was the really strange stuff. The one that fascinated me most was a religion based on how a certain letter of the alphabet was pronounced hundreds of years ago. It was that tangential.

One day, while I was working at a hospital CDU, I interviewed a patient who was a member of that church. He was starting to realize that the church was a cult and that it was nuts. He also told me there wasn't a single church member who wasn't like him--addicted to crack cocaine.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:21 AM  

I'm a lawyer and I had an interesting divorce case some time ago. Pretty young college-educated woman wanted a divorce from her cheating, lying, abusive self-styled preacher of a husband. Fortunately, he agreed to cooperate in the divorce. She wanted to go back to her family in another state and start over. In the course of the proceedings he murdered someone, complicating our proceedings slightly. Then the lady called and told me she wanted to call off the divorce. She made vows before God, blah, blah, blah. I had no choice but to drop the case, even though it was obvious to me that his use of God to manipulate her into staying married to him was all about his desire to preserve his eligibility for conjugal visits, along with the other advantages that come with having a submissive woman taking care of things for him on the outside now that he'd be in prison for a long time. I've seen no evidence that obsessive religion improves the honesty or kindness of anyone (and I have a family full of Southern Baptists), quite to the contrary in fact. That it will "cure" the criminal population is even less credible.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:36 PM  

I always want to know how a faith treatment compares to Dr. Tim Leary's version in longitudinal studies.

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