Friday, February 09, 2007

Oldest faith-based initiative in Texas prisons gets no respect

Like Doc Berman, I support and appreciate most faith-based prisoner support, though I don't think prisoners should be treated as a captive audience for proselytizing by anyone.

But I certainly think before Texas launches too many new faith-based programs, we should fully fund the oldest faith-based intiative in the history of Texas corrections: the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ's) Chaplaincy program. Prisons chaplains are the Rodney Dangerfields of faith-based initiatives: They get no respect.

In his new budget, Gov. Perry proposed a new one-thousand bed faith based program starting this spring, declaring:
The Governor believes faith-based programs should be expanded whenever possible in adult correctional facilities to reduce violence and recidivism. Although state funds cannot expressly be used for this purpose, TDCJ will announce an additional 1,000 prison beds in existing units this spring. The Governor supports this and future expansions whenever possible.
Depending on the programming, I might be okay with that, but here's my question: Aren't we putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn't Texas fully fund its Chaplaincy program first?

At yesterday's House Appropriations Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing (I was listening to it here), Rep. Jim McReynolds said he had constituents who were concerned about the chaplains' budget being cut. TDCJ staff told him (and Chairman Turner confirmed) that Texas' chaplains' program had been slashed by approximately 50% in 2003. That funding has never been restored!

Man, somebody please tell me again how the religious right has taken over Texas state government?

So Texas has gutted its own Chaplaincy program, and now, without restoring it, Gov. Perry wants to create a new "faith based" program that only serves 1/150th of the prisoners, and which will be run by whom? A private contractor? A church of this or that denomination? Chuck Colson?

Shouldn't Texas for starters, in this time of surplus, just double current funding for TDCJ's chaplains' program, if only to get it back to its level of support it had when the state's current leadership took over the reins?


Anonymous said...

When the Chaplaincy program in TDCJ acts according to laws of the land I would have no problem supporting funding. However, it has been my experience that unit chaplains of various denominations often determine which faith they will recognize. We have two units where the unit chaplains treat the Jewish prisoners almost as bad as Hilter did during the Holocaust. They are not allowed the very basic elements of their faith to include confiscation of their Jewish Bible. I guess if you aren't Baptist, Lutheran or one of the other mainline denominations, these so-called men of God can determine the condition of your soul and set about to fix it by denying you your own religion.

If we, the taxpayers of Texas, are expected to support an internal TDCJ faith-based program then I would like to see a Priest, Rabbi, Medicine Man, Minister, Pastor and anything I've missed assigned to each Region to address the issues of religion within that Region's purvue. One cannot shove Baptist theology down the throat of a Native American or vice versa.

Basically, you get what you pay for and to date I haven't seen a balance within the Chaplaincy program in TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

The times I have spoken to the Chaplain at my hubby's unit, I have found him to be very abrupt and rude, although he did pass the requested messages on immediately (they were regarding my surgeries). Familes are often told that the Chaplain should be the initial point of contact at a Unit, especially as TDCJ dont have an inmate phone system (yet) and there are times when messages need to be got to the inmate quickly (not just deaths, but illnesses, surgeries and other personal issues). The reluctance on some Chaplain's parts to do this is mystifying to me.
I was under the impression that public bodies in America were not allowed to promote one religion over any other, but it happens all the time in TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 800 lb gorilla, education, not religion is the most valuable tool in the "fight against crime". I don't care if you call it treatment or rehabilitation, or school, at the end of the day, crime among the best educated portion of the population is the lowest!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

As I said, I don't support chaplains coercing this or that religion, and if that's happening maybe it's something the ACLU should get involved in - that's sort of their bailiwick.

Still, I believe that a) in confinement the state has a duty to provide some resources towards fulfilling inmates' spiritual needs for those who desire it, and that b) if the chaplains' unit is misbehaving or using coercive techniques, it's easier to stop them from abusing their authority, as a taxpayer, if it's a government agency instead of Chuck Colson, or whoever.

Finally, the need for chaplains for more and different faiths, to me, only underscores why funding should be increased. I don't see that as an argument for why we should ditch the chaplains and move toward relying on private faith based programs that aren't nearly as accountable to the public. best,