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Iowa Faith-Based Program Finally Closed

After a five-year court battle and public controversy, the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) has decided to close a Bible-oriented re-entry program at the Newton Correctional Facility.

The program, operated by Virginia-based Prison Fellowship Ministries, was part of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative. PLN has reported extensively on this challenge to the new wave of Christian values programs for prisoners, which is a test of President Bush’s push for faith-based initiatives.

A lawsuit against the InnerChange program was brought in federal court by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. On December 3, 2007, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found the program unconstitutional to the extent that it used government funds to advocate Christianity, as no other alternatives existed for prisoners to receive the benefits of the program. The appellate ruling also reversed the lower court’s order that Prison Fellowship refund $1.5 million it had received in state funding [See: PLN, Jan. 2008, p.30].

The IDOC announced in February, 2008 that it was closing the InnerChange program, effective at the end of March. The closure came despite the fact that Prison Fellowship had continued to operate the program since July 2007 using donations received from its benefactors, which eliminated the use of taxpayer funds.

InnerChange has been described as a “24-hour-a-day, Christ-centered, biblically based program that promotes personal transformation of prisoners through the power of the Gospel.” Prison Fellowship still operates similar Christ-based programs at facilities in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas.

Source: Des Moines Register, News Tribune

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