Southern Religion

A prison for Christ?

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story encouraging his followers to visit prisoners, but what would He think of a “Christians prison.”

A Texas-based ministry wants to build a prison in Wakita, Okla., believed to be the first that would be staffed exclusively by Christians. Government officials in the area seem open to the idea.

Many prisons allow Christian ministry. Some are even billed as “faith-based,” including a 1,600-inmate prison in Crawfordville, Fla. that opened in 2005.

Bill Robinson is the founder of Corrections Concepts Inc., the nonprofit group that wants to build the prison in Oklahoma.

KWTV in Oklahoma City reported that Robinson has been trying to build such a prison for 20 years. His organization was registered with the Texas Secretary of State’s office in 1985.

Robinson’s group has pitched the idea to other local governments in Texas and Oklahoma without success.

Among the communities to consider the proposal was Leonard, Texas, where in December 2007 opponents attended a city council meeting with a petition signed by 400 people in the town of 2,000. Dallas attorney John Sheedy made a presentation at that meeting during which he said Corrections Concepts hasn’t been accepted in other communities because Satan doesn’t want the project to succeed.

He is doing everything he can to defeat this project and he is using good people with good intentions. Satan is much more powerful than anybody in this room, he will twist that person around where they think they are doing the right thing in fighting it.”

In 2005, a group called Concerned Citizens for Integrity, opposed the idea of Corrections Concepts building a prison near San Angelo, Texas.

Other places that have considered Robinson’s plan include Wilson, Okla. earlier this year; Coleman, Texas in 1999 and 2006; and Littlefield, Texas in 2003.

Robinson’s goal of “changing criminals into citizens” is commendable, but issues remain.

Even though the Tulsa World reported that Robinson’s group believes the Christian prison is “able to pass constitutional muster,” the proposal is likely to face legal challenges.

Robinson told the newspaper that he has received legal opinions that say that since the prison will be a religious organization, it will be able to hire only people of like faith. The prisoners, he said, won’t have to go to church or Bible study, but will have to take part in the prison’s curriculum, which he described as “Christ-centered.”

But legal opinions differ depending on the lawyer and often change depending on whom the lawyer represents. And there’s not much difference between a voluntary Bible study and a mandatory curriculum.

Moreover, why does the entire prison have to be Christian? Can’t the curriculum be taught in existing prisons with the same results?

And there’s likely more than just the usual “not in my backyard” rationale in those communities which decided against Robinson’s plan.

Prisoners who explore their faith and deal with spiritual issues might very well be on their way to becoming respected members of the community, but despite the attorney’s reasoning above, in this case, the devil is in the details.


November 4, 2009 - Posted by | Law, Religion | , ,

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