In Texas, Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth has sometimes been the domain of feuding factions of Baptists, which makes me wonder which religious group would be chosen for such a task and whether that might generate unforeseen controversy? Will the seminary train Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Unitarians, Muslims, Wiccans? Quien sabe? Moreover, each of those groups has internal factions to contend with; none are monolithic and the brand of religion taught will inevitably fail to match every taste.
After visiting a once-violent Louisiana prison that is now ranked as one of the most tame thanks to a minister-training program, two key state senators today proposed bringing the concept to Texas.
The proposal is to locate a religious seminary inside a Texas lockup.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, a member of the committee, said they think that the rehabilitation project that has worked well at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola could be just as successful in Texas.
Whitmire and Patrick spent three days last week at the Angola lockup, once ranked as the most violent prison in America, along with representatives of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Bible College.
“I found this to be a remarkable program that Sen. Patrick and I will present to state leadership and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, and will work with Texas prison officials to locate the right unit, the right warden, and the right staff to duplicate the effort in Texas,” Whitmire said.
“It certainly deserves the attention of our state leaders and prison officials.”
As the largest maximum-security prison in the United States with about 5,000 violent-crime felons — more than 3,600 of them serving life sentences — the prison now houses an arm of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary which provides a four-year program that so far has trained about 150 ministers.
Depending on how they implement it I suppose there could be some establishment clause problems, but in general I see this as basically just a job training program, not much different than if they decided to train groups of inmates as yoga instructors who would then provide classes to their peers. Not everybody can or should be a preacher, though (particularly not everybody in prison - there are enough charlatans in the field already!) and I wish there was a broader focus on providing meaningful job skills in emerging industries.