Faith-Based Dorms

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Faith-Based Dorms

Religious programs have been an integral part of the “correctional” system since the 1780’s in the United States and elsewhere. In the heavily “law and order” sensibility of the 1970’s the emphasis shifted from the rehabilitation of offenders to the surveillance of inmates. Very little research had been done on the effectiveness of educational, vocational or religious programing and these efforts suffered for that reason.

In the 1990’s the field of international research on the effectiveness of rehabilitation opened up in an effort to address the extremely high rate of recidivism, sometimes as great as 75% re-arrest within five years of release. Social scientists examined and published numerous program approaches in an effort to determine the effectiveness of rehabilitation efforts. Included are faith based programs intended to offer the inmate the opportunity to deepen their religious practice. Although the emphasis of this research measures effectiveness in terms of recidivism, many other factors are coming to light, including the effect that such programs have on the prison environment itself.

In 1997 in Texas, the Prison Fellowship under the direction of Charles Colson, initiated a “faith based” prison program, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative under the direction of the Prison Fellowship Ministries. Although the efficacy and legality of this program has come under close scrutiny, (see InnerChange link) its legacy is the proliferation of Faith Based Dorms (FBD) in the Texas prison system (TDCJ) with a heavy emphasis on Christian programing and Bible study.

In the Fall of 2011, Project Clear Light was invited to sponsor a faith-based dorm on the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon with a curriculum based on the Contemplative Practices Program. This program takes a more secular approach to learning the spiritual practices that are common to all the world’s religious traditions. The Ramsey FBD opened in December, 2011 with 65 men participating. The men live together in a dorm, and attend the CPP and other classes in addition to attending the religious services of their choice that are offered on the unit. It is anticipated that the CPP approach will become an option for other FBD in the system.

Click here for more information and research on faith-based prison programs. An example is this quote from Criminal Justice and Behavior:

In a meta-analysis of correctional programs, Cullen and Gendreau (2000) found that some treatment modalities had a substantial impact on recidivism, yet others were negligible. With this information, they outlined four basic principles that are important in evaluating program effectiveness. First, treatment should address factors that can be changed and that directly influence criminal behavior. Specifically, known predictors of crime should be targeted in these programs; these include factors such as low self-control (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) or antisocial attitudes and maintaining criminal associates (Akers, 1977; Warr, 2002). Second, the implementation of the treatment program is important in the assessment. Programs that are not implemented as intended, are short in duration or intensity, or are implemented by individuals who are unqualified may be less likely to have an effect. Third, offenders who are at high risk for reoffending should be targeted. If an individual is at low risk for future criminal behavior, then the ability to reduce his or her probability of future criminal behavior is negligible. Fourth, the treatment program must be tailored to the various learning styles and abilities of the individuals receiving treatment. In other words, the better the program plays to the audience, the better the participants are served as shown in the results (MacKenzie, 2006).
— see Criminal Justice and Behavior, Daggett, et al