A University of Pennsylvania study, promoted at a White House roundtable discussion yesterday, gives high marks to Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Texas.

According to the PF-funded study, only 8 percent of inmates who complete the full 22-month program of immersion in Christian relationships and education returned to prison within two years of their release. A comparison group had a 20 percent recidivism rate.

Criminologist Byron Johnson directed the six-year study. "The results are incredibly positive," Johnson told CT. "It means that governments could save billions of dollars in prison costs."

However, the study notes that InnerChange—like many inmate rehab programs—experiences a high dropout rate: over 50 percent.

InnerChange came to Texas in 1997. PF also operates it in Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota.

The program receives some state funds for its nonreligious elements. In February, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed two federal lawsuits against the Iowa program (CT, April, p. 33). AU says InnerChange unconstitutionally indoctrinates participants in religion.

Mark Earley, PF's president, says the program is purely voluntary and thus permissible.

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute told CT, "If an adverse ruling was sustained by the Supreme Court, it would stop Bush's faith-based initiative dead in its tracks."

Related Elsewhere

Media coverage of the study and yesterday's White House meeting includes:

Convicted Watergate figure, Bush meet | Colson praised Bush for allowing InnerChange Freedom Initiative to start (Associated Press)
Shutting the revolving door | A new study released this week shows that Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative is making a big difference. (Mark Earley, Breakpoint)

For more information, see the websites for the Prison Fellowship and Innerchange Freedom Initiative.

The Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council has posted the "Initial Process and Outcome Evaluation of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative" online.

Previous CT coverage of InnerChange, Prison Fellowship, and prison ministry includes:

Suing Success | Prison Fellowship says its Inner Change program is clearly constitutional. (March 18, 2003)
Weblog: Christian Prison Program Sued (Feb. 13, 2003)
The Legacy of Prisoner 23226 | Twenty-six years after leaving prison, Charles Colson has become one of America's most significant social reformers. (June 29, 2001)
The Changing Face of Prison Fellowship | Organization says closing 20 offices and eliminating 100 staff positions are part of attempt to involve churches and volunteers more directly in prison ministry. (Sept. 28, 2000)
A Healthy 'Cult' | A lively response by one unusual audience shows how God's power transforms culture. (June 12, 2000)
Setting Captives Free | It takes more than getting a woman inmate out of jail to turn her life around (Jan. 10, 2000)
Prison Alpha Helps Women Recover Their Lost Hopes (Oct. 4, 1999)
Go Directly to Jail (Sept. 6, 1999)
Redeeming the Prisoners | Prison ministers embrace restorative justice methods. (Mar. 1, 1999)
Unique Prison Program Serves as Boot Camp for Heaven (Feb. 9, 1998)
Maximum Security Unlikely Setting for Model Church (Sept. 16, 1996)

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