Since 2007, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the largest religious network in the world, has been quietly spreading a faith-based rehabilitative TV program for prisoners.
Following a successful pilot program in South Dakota’s prison system, TBN’s Second Chance program is poised to expand nationwide. South Dakota, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) have already signed up for the free in-house television shows, and Ohio, Mississippi and South Carolina plan to start pilot programs.
TBN pays for all costs associated with the programming. Second Chance consists of up to four faith-based TV channels: TBN, the most popular faith-based channel in the nation; The Church Channel, which broadcasts teaching programs and church services from various denominations; TBN Enlace USA, a Spanish language channel airing faith-based programming from the U.S. and Latin American countries; and JCTV, a faith-based entertainment channel targeting 13- to 29-year-old prisoners.
The channels are broadcast on the Ku satellite band by Glorystar Satellite Systems, a free Christian satellite network, and TBN pays to have satellite dishes and receivers installed and maintained. Buford Satellite Systems and Correctional Cable TV, the two largest providers of cable TV services to prisons and jails, have agreed to add the Second Chance channels to their lineups and provide them to their captive audiences without charge.
The programming is optional in that prisoners are not required to watch the shows. Both prison officials and experts such as Holyoke College criminology and sociology professor Richard Moran note that numerous studies and practical experience indicate a correlation between watching TV and violent behavior. Violent programs engender violence, while inspirational programs have a positive effect.
“Offenders need a fundamental shift in how they perceive the world, transitioning from a vengeful mindset to one of grace, forgiveness and self control,” Prof. Moran observed.
CCA is already installing Second Chance equipment in the company’s 65 facilities, which are located in 19 states and the District of Columbia and house over 75,000 prisoners. Budget-challenged state officials have praised the savings from TBN’s free equipment and in-house TV shows.
“At a time when budgetary limitations allow for fewer program opportunities for inmates, the availability of 24 hour messages of hope is an encouragement to all who work in corrections,” said Alex Taylor of the Florida Department of Corrections.
No one seems to question whether allowing an evangelical Christian group to donate equipment that is exclusively used to receive evangelical Christian programming in facilities that house state prisoners in any way implicates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which has been interpreted to require a separation of church and state.
It is unlikely other religious faiths or secular groups would be afforded similar privileges.
Then again, the TBN broadcasts may be less intrusive than institutional faith-based programs (e.g., “God pods”), which have received court approval provided no government funds are used in the religious component of such programs. Also, many prisoners are appreciative of the religious programming. “We receive countless letters from prisoners thanking TBN for TV that has changed their lives,” noted Second Chance program coordinator Amy Fihn.
Sources: Associated Press, The Tennessean, Christian Newswire, Mississippi Link, www.tbnsecondchance.org
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