Inmates seem to respond to faith-based program

Those who took part less likely to commit new crimes, report says
AP, Feb. 8, 2003
http://www.dallasnews.com/

AUSTIN – Prison inmates who complete a religion-based rehabilitation program are less likely to commit new crimes after their release than similar inmates who don’t participate, according to a state report issued Friday.

The reportPDF file by the state Criminal Justice Policy Council, which provides data and policy analysis to state officials, tracked the recidivism rate of 177 offenders who participated in the Innerchange Freedom Initiative and were released from prison before Sept. 1, 2000.

Innerchange is a Christian-based program at the Carol Vance Unit near Houston. It was introduced in 1997 with the enthusiastic support of Gov. George W. Bush.

The program accepts only minimum-security inmates and doesn’t take anyone convicted of sex-related offenses, murder or aggravated assault. Participants must be within 18-30 months of release.

The study compared 177 inmates who completed the program to 1,754 who met the selection criteria but did not participate, 560 inmates who volunteered but did not participate and 1,083 who were deemed eligible but did not volunteer and were not selected.

Of those groups, inmates who completed the 16-month Innerchange program had “significantly lower recidivism rates” than the other groups, the report said.

Only 8 percent of Innerchange graduates ended up back in prison on a new offense or parole revocation within two years after their release. That compares with a rate of 20.5 percent for the other study groups.

The report was the first comprehensive study of the Innerchange program in Texas, said Don Keil, assistant director for religious programs at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Innerchange also runs programs in Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota.

Originally started as a pilot project only for inmates from Harris County, it has been expanded to include inmates from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Mr. Keil said.

He said the state’s goal is not to convert inmates to Christianity, but to reduce the number of inmates who commit new crimes after they’re released.

Innerchange is funded by the nonprofit Prison Fellowship Ministries to pay for staff and Bible-based instructional and education materials. The state allocated $1.5 million to expand the program in the 2002-03 budget, but that money has not been used.

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