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Florida’s New Approach to Inmate Reform: A ‘Faith-Based’ Prison


— December 23, 2003

Ken Cooper is a convicted bank robber whose life changed after visits in jail from a retired Sunday School teacher. Now, he’s getting the chance to return the favor.

Wednesday Mr. Cooper, who has become an evangelical minister, will give the prayer of dedication at a Florida experiment in inmate rehabilitation: America’s first totally “faith-based prison.”

The medium-security facility will house only inmates who have chosen to take part in rehabilitation programs run by volunteers from religious groups.

While controversial to critics who see it blurring church-state lines, the program aims to become a model for correctional systems that have long struggled to break the cycle of recidivism. . . .

“[F]aith is what makes a difference. If you change what’s inside you, you have the opportunity to live your life,” says Cooper, who expects that 90 percent of those involved in the Lawtey Correctional Institution program in Raiford, Florida, will not reoffend. . . .

[A]s of today, 26 religions will be represented among Lawtey’s population. Belief in a god is not a requirement of the program. But a commitment to self-improvement is. . . .

[T]he taxpayer-funded program is not without controversy. Some say it violates the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

“A state can no more create a faith-based prison than it could set up faith-based public schools or faith-based police departments,” says the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has a federal lawsuit pending against a state-sponsored evangelical Christian project at a prison in Iowa. “Governor [Jeb] Bush is trying to merge religion and government . . . .”

Details about this interesting program here from The Christian Science Monitor.


Ken Cooper is a convicted bank robber whose life changed after visits in jail from a retired Sunday School teacher. Now, he’s getting the chance to return the favor.

Wednesday Mr. Cooper, who has become an evangelical minister, will give the prayer of dedication at a Florida experiment in inmate rehabilitation: America’s first totally “faith-based prison.”

The medium-security facility will house only inmates who have chosen to take part in rehabilitation programs run by volunteers from religious groups.

While controversial to critics who see it blurring church-state lines, the program aims to become a model for correctional systems that have long struggled to break the cycle of recidivism. . . .

“[F]aith is what makes a difference. If you change what’s inside you, you have the opportunity to live your life,” says Cooper, who expects that 90 percent of those involved in the Lawtey Correctional Institution program in Raiford, Florida, will not reoffend. . . .

[A]s of today, 26 religions will be represented among Lawtey’s population. Belief in a god is not a requirement of the program. But a commitment to self-improvement is. . . .

[T]he taxpayer-funded program is not without controversy. Some say it violates the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

“A state can no more create a faith-based prison than it could set up faith-based public schools or faith-based police departments,” says the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has a federal lawsuit pending against a state-sponsored evangelical Christian project at a prison in Iowa. “Governor [Jeb] Bush is trying to merge religion and government . . . .”

Details about this interesting program here from The Christian Science Monitor.

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