- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

The nation’s largest private operator of prisons has joined with a prison ministry group to offer what it hopes will be a prototype for faith-based rehabilitation nationwide.

The voluntary program, developed by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Chicago-based Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), is designed to help inmates who seek spiritual guidance as they try to change their lives.

“We have always had chaplains and counselors at our facilities and have seen the positive effect that spiritual counseling can have on an inmate’s life,” said Jim Seaton, chief operating officer of CCA, which is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.

Pointing out that IBLP has eight years of experience in prison ministry and faith-based programming in 60 jails and prisons in the United States, Mr. Seaton said, “We approached IBLP to assist us in creating a prototype.”

The program will begin this year in eight CCA correctional facilities, mostly in the South, but it could eventually be expanded to all 64 CCA jails, detention centers and prisons throughout the United States, company officials said.

CCA is the sixth-largest prison operator in the United States, behind only the federal government and four states. Its facilities in 20 states and the District of Columbia have a design capacity of 65,000 beds.

CCA officials said they expect about 1,000 inmates to complete the program this year. Goals include character building, helping ease thereturn to society and reducing recidivism.

To test the effectiveness of the program, CCA and IBLP will measure cognitive thinking and behavioral changes in participants at two pilot sites. Tests will be given before and after the course to measure changes in behavior in areas that include lying, stealing, blaming others and physical aggression.

John Lanz, director of faith-based initiatives for CCA, said that the prison system believes in its new residential faith-based program, which will run for four months in jails and six months in prisons. The program will provide inmates with a religious ministry, in conjunction with other opportunities they need, such as physical activity, intellectual pursuits, emotional support and the chance to learn social skills.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Lanz said that all inmates are eligible for the program, regardless of religious background, and that religious conversion “is neither required nor encouraged for completion of the program.”

Dennis Bradby , CCA vice president of inmate programs, said, “Inmates will experience up to 732 hours of faith-based activities after six months in the program.”

The activities will include expressing their views and insights on paper, along with “character work, anger-management courses, community-service mentoring, and optional worship services and study groups.”

News of the CCA/IBLP partnership comes on the heels of an announcement late last year that a state prison near Jacksonville, Fla., had become the nation’s first “faith-based” jailhouse.

At the revamped 800-man Lawley Correctional Institution in northern Florida, inmates who are nearing release and have had clean records for the previous 12 months are involved in activities such as prayer sessions, religious studies, choir practice and religious counseling seven days a week.

At the dedication of that overhauled prison, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, said he and his elder brother, President Bush, share the view that the best way to rehabilitate criminals is to “lead them to God.”

Asked yesterday if he thinks there is a trend toward faith-based prison programs, Mr. Lanz of CCA said, “I think there is.”

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