An Appeal for Hope

colson2Next week, on February 13, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis will hear a case that could shape the future of corrections in this country. The enormity of this case is underscored by the fact that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has decided to sit on the three-judge panel. Here’s the case in a nutshell: In 1997 Prison Fellowship launched an enormously successful pre-release program for prisoners called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative®, or IFI. IFI now operates in six states. A federal judge has ruled that the IFI program in Iowa violates the separation of church and state and has ordered it shut down. The judge painted a picture of IFI that we contest: He ruled that we coerce prisoners to participate in a religious program, although not a single prisoner at trial testified he was coerced. He ruled that government funding of the secular aspects of this program violated the Constitution, even though religious aspects of the program—though a substantial part—are funded by private donations. He also grossly mischaracterized evangelicals, stating that our beliefs—like the bodily resurrection of Jesus—make us a fringe element in Christianity. IFI and Prison Fellowship have appealed the ruling to the Eighth Circuit, which sets the stage for next week. Just this once, I wish I could argue a case in court again, because here is what I would tell the judges: For two hundred years, our correctional system has failed us. Our prisons have failed to rehabilitate prisoners and have failed to protect the public. Yet now, here is something that is proven to work inside our prisons: the IFI program. An independent, peer-reviewed study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that only 8 percent of graduates of the IFI program in Texas were reincarcerated within two years of their release, compared to 20 percent of similar Texas prisoners and more than 50 percent nationally. And just last month, the distinguished magazine the Economist highlighted the forerunner of IFI—the APAC program in Brazil—for reducing recidivism. Why in heaven’s name—or in the name of sound public policy—would anyone shut down the one program proven to reduce recidivism when our prisons are jammed full, 2.3 million people? I would also tell the judges this: If you had ever been a prisoner, you would know what it feels like to sit in a cell twenty-three out of twenty-four hours a day, looking at a concrete wall. You would know what it feels like to live in constant fear, without hope. So along comes IFI, offering you the hope you have longed for. Hope for a second chance. Hope for skills and resources to help you make it on the outside. Hope that committed volunteers will meet you at the gate and walk by your side. And on top of that, the greatest hope of all: forgiveness and a new life in Christ! So my plea to the judges would be this: Don’t take away the one hope these men and women have—these poorest of the poor, the least in our society. Everybody talks about helping them, and we’re doing it. Don’t stop us. And my plea to “BreakPoint” listeners and readers is simply this: Pray. Pray that IFI will prevail at the Eighth Circuit. And pray that this program will be able to continue to reduce recidivism, continue to make our communities safer, and continue to give hope to those who need it most.
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Please donate online today to help Prison Fellowship defend religious freedom in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative appeal. Or call 1-877-322-5527. Thank you!
For Further Reading and Information
Learn more about the InnerChange Freedom Initiative appeal. Here are ideas for prayer. “Locking in the Best Price,” The Economist, 25 January 2007. Catherine Claire, “Countdown to a Crucial Hearing,” The Point, 1 February 2007. BreakPoint Commentary No.060621, “Judging Evangelicals: Comparative Religion from the Bench.”


Chuck Colson


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