"Some people believe..."
But even in today’s more accommodating environment, constitutional scholars agree that one line between church and state has remained fairly bright: The government cannot directly finance or support religious evangelism or indoctrination. That restriction typically has not loomed large when public money goes to religious charities providing essentially secular services, like job training, after-school tutoring, child care or food banks. In such cases, the beneficiaries need not accept the charity’s religious beliefs to get the secular benefits the government is financing.Those who see...?
The courts have taken a different view, however, when public money goes directly to groups, like the Iowa ministry, whose method of helping others is to introduce them to a specific set of religious beliefs — and whose success depends on the beneficiary accepting those core beliefs. In those cases, most of the challenged grants have been struck down as unconstitutional.
Those who see faith-based groups as exceptionally effective allies in the battle against criminal recidivism, teen pregnancy, addiction and other social ills say these cases are rare, compared with the number of programs receiving funds, and should not tarnish the concept of bringing more religious groups into publicly financed programs, so long as any direct financing is used only for secular expenses.
How can two (relatively) high-paid journalists write that sort of tripe when studies show that prison ministry programs which give special benefits to prisoners have little to no long-term effects on rates of recidivism. Sure, those who support the programs will say they help, but couldn't journalists check on that?
This is not a new problem. In 2003, for example, a study showed that participants in Chuck Colson's InnerChange program had much lower chances of going back to prison. Journalists were beside themselves reporting this fact and Colson got an invite back to the White House he so tainted as a member of the Watergate crowd. Only problem was, it wasn't true. The truth was that, if you looked past the study's abstract, you found that, as Mark Kleiman wrote, "the InnerChange group was slightly more likely to be rearrested (36.2% versus 35%) and noticeably more likely to actually go back to prison (24.3% versus 20.3%)." Those turned out to be facts that only a blogger could love.
In 2004, Baylor professor Byron R. Johnson published a study in Justice Quarterly (Vol. 21, June) in which he argued that the "little we know from preliminary research (into prison fellowship programs)...tends to be positive." This despite the fact that his own study found no difference between the re-arrest rates of members of prison fellowship (PF) programs and non-members. Here, in fact, is the chart from his own study.
Baylor, of course, bills itself as the largest Baptist university in the world, which may explain some of Johnson's positive spin, but even he admits that the only bit of good news he found was short-lived. He found that PF members who participated most vigorously in Bible study programs did better than those who participated less, but only until the third year after their release from prison.
All in all, the Times piece was a pretty balanced one, but many journalists seem to tiptoe around any issue of proof when matters of faith are involved. I understand that. These studies, however, are not matters of faith but of fact. They took me all of two minutes to find and, when dealing with state and federal programs, journalists should take at least a few minutes to let their readers know whether the programs they're discussing are effective.