- - Friday, November 6, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Formerly known as “the bloodiest prison in America,” the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. is now an outstanding example for maximum-security prisons nationwide.

Since 1996, inmates in Angola, most of which are serving life, have been opening their hearts to God and pursuing their Bachelor of Arts degrees from inside prison walls at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Over 250 inmates have graduated since the start of this 4-year “bible college” program and the results have been undeniably incredible.

The violence rate within the Louisiana State Penitentiary walls has dropped 75 percent.

And the benefits of the program don’t stop there.

After receiving their degrees, dozens of inmates were sent as “missionaries” to other prisons across the state to help spread the word of God.

Only six months after the first missionaries arrived at the Dixon County Correctional Facility in Jackson, La., violence dropped by an astonishing 43 percent.

But while Louisiana’s program has worked to reform culture inside prison, New York’s infamous Sing Sing Correctional Facility has focused more on reforming inmates scheduled to once again see life on the outside.

Through Sing Sing’s Master of Professional Studies Program (MPS) from the New York Theological Seminary, the rate of recidivism of released Sing Sing prisoners who completed the program has been dramatically affected.

Not one prisoner released from Sing Sing after completing the MPS program was re-arrested within a year, compared to 30 percent of re-arrests among those released from Sing Sing without MPS degrees.

Additionally, only 9 percent of released MPS graduates were re-arrested within 28 months post-release, compared to 37 percent of non-MPS graduates.

States nationwide have taken note of these dramatic results and are hoping to see similar results in their own states.

Texas recently graduated their first class of 33 inmates from The Darrington Seminary, a four-year “bible college” modeled off of the successful seminary in Angola and located in Texas’ maximum security Darrington Prison Unit.

“God is the one that takes a stone heart and makes it flesh, allowing a person to be used a vessel for him. So, can God do it? Yes, he can do anything, and I believe that’s what he is going to do in Texas,” said Andre Pierre, a convicted murderer serving 45 years and a seminary student at Darrington.

Programs like these have clearly brought about beneficial results and are once again a reminder of what structured religious education can do for struggling citizens in our great nation.

Other prison systems similarly looking to reap rewards from the word of God include those in South Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan.

Hopefully, states will continue to follow seminary models like those used in Louisiana and New York to bring about positive changes throughout all of America’s prison systems.

Madison Gesiotto is a staff editor for the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.

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