Alabama Governor says churches, not state, must rehabilitate prisoners

(RNS) Gov. Bob Riley on Tuesday (May 20) asked Alabama churches to shoulder the burden of caring for newly released inmates, saying the state lacks the flexibility and funds to help them successfully re-enter society.

Leaders from churches and charitable groups were asked to provide a wide range of services to former inmates, including employment assistance, housing, clothing, health care and cash.

Riley said the state’s churches can rise to the challenge just as they do in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“If we can motivate the faith-based community in the state the way we do during an emergency, then we can make a difference,” Riley said to a group of about 500 people, mostly religious leaders.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Law & Legal Issues, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

13 comments on “Alabama Governor says churches, not state, must rehabilitate prisoners

  1. Rev. Patti Hale says:

    Hear Hear.
    Wanna practice “radical inclusivity”? Newly released inmates are at the bottom of the food chain, especially sex offenders. The church has an awesome opportunity to bless some very troubled lives with our love and care.

  2. Dan Crawford says:

    Of course, the state will continue the practice of doing whatever it can to limit the free exercise of religion. Ah, the hypocrisey. And sleaziness.

  3. libraryjim says:

    And the ACLU will step in, quickly, I’m sure, to sue the state for ‘needless entanglement of Church and State’ to stop the program.

    And of course, any state monies for funding such programs is out of the question.

  4. Vincent Lerins says:

    Many of the government aid programs shouldn’t exist. They are only tools of control. Because the church has given much of its responsibilities to the state, the state has grown way too power and controlling. One major avenue of governmental control in the lives of its citizens are social programs and agencies.

    The modern church needs to take a cue from the early church in this area. As St. Luke described the Jerusalem church:

    [i] Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. – Acts 2:44-45

    32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. 36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. – Acts 4:32-37 [/i]

    Instead of building huge mega churches and paying ministers hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars, church members should take the wealth they have accumulated and give aid to the community at large. Instead of ‘old money’ downtown churches fleeing to the suburbs, they should build a modest house of worship and the rest of the money should go to helping families in the inner city. Having money isn’t for us to hoard and jetset around country. It’s to be a blessing in the local community and help those less fortunate. Can you imagine how this would affect evangelism!!!


  5. Words Matter says:

    Actually, LJim, the ACLU would be in the right (hey, “even a stopped clock” and all that).

    As a parole officer, I am privileged to see excellent faith-based services working hand-in-hand with our public services. We recently worked with a “Celebrate Recovery” group to set up a program at our office for sex offenders. This avoids the possibility of children being around, and also (different than regular CR), there will be a connection between the group leader and parole. As a Christian, I am certainly open to this sort of program. As an agent of the state, I cannot require them to participate in it.

    And I think that’s the rub: faith-based (Christian, Muslim, whatever) services must be voluntary, which implies that the state should retain a service system apart from faith-based services. I worked with a mentally ill child molester for some years. He is adamant that he’s an atheist, so what do we do? Throw him away? He’s actually back in prison now, and belongs there. But, in principle, what do we do?

    It’s really easy to demagogue about “rehabilitation”, whether for or against. I firmly rejected the rehabilitation/punishment dichotomy years ago, and have, moreover, come to believe that nothing we do can “rehabilitate” a person. The word itself is degrading and dehumanizing. These are people, human beings who make choices. They aren’t broken machines to be fixed. They aren’t (or shouldn’t be) objects of our pity or our manipulation. Now, I see a fair number of people who come out of prison ready to make changes in their lives. Some do it, some fail. I have, for 5 years, had “sexually violent predators” on my caseload. Many of them have years of sex offender treatment, firm Christian convictions, and a lot (!!) of structure in their lives. Yet they are such incredibly broken people inside that they end up back in prison (and belong there!).

    Ok, now I’m demagoguing, but I want to make the point that “rehabilitation” does happen. Education, job training, drug/alcohol treatment, sex offender treatment, cognitive restructuring, life skills, and all of that is good stuff. We need to do it. But we need to be realistic about it.

  6. drummie says:

    #5, Why would the ACLU be right? I know, the first amendment. Has anyone ever read this document? No where in the Constitution or any amendment do the words “seperation of church and state” appear. The first amendment says the government shall not establish a religion, but it just as strongly says the forgotten part, that the government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion as well. The ACLU along with activist judges have taken over our courts and legislatures in many ways and they dictate to the rest of us what will be. True in your case you can’t force anyone to attend a faithbased program, but why should the ACLU be able to stop one from operating?

  7. Violent Papist says:

    This is a classic case of voters and taxpayers who want to severely punish criminals, even small-time criminals, by locking them up for lengthy sentences but not pay the costs (monetary and social) of doing so. Churches are an important part of the rehabilitation process for offenders, to be sure, but it is the state, not the church, that throws people in jail. The primary responsibility for cons and ex-cons lie with the State. And churches cannot change people if they don’t want to change.

  8. Barrdu says:

    I’m really turned off by Riley’s call (and I think Riley is the best governor we’ve had in ages) I don’t recall scripture calling on the church to rehabilitate criminals. It’s probably a worthy ministry for a church called to such. The State needs to be examining why it has no money for necessary social programs. The Alabama legislature just ended without passing the budget for next fiscal year. So, at an expense of over $300,000 Gov. Riley has to call a special session for that purpose. You’d think a legislature would take care of the most important business during the regular session. Well, at least the fishes of the sea benefited as the legislature ended up with a compromise bill which will start limitations on gill netting in area waters during the regular session.

  9. libraryjim says:

    I wonder if the Governor could call on Charles Colson to introduce his prison rehab model to the state? With some modifications, I’m sure it would help.

  10. Africanised Anglican says:

    One organization that tries to help out with this–which I wish were better-known, is Dismas House. It’s named for one of my own long-time favorite saints, the robber crucified on Jesus’ right. Founded at Vanderbilt in 1974 by a Dominican priest, it houses university students with carefully-screened ex-convicts, one of each to a room. The idea is to create a community in which the ex-offenders can reintegrate with society in a house environment that is more healthy and conducive to a non-criminal life than that which they had before going to prison. I was one of the student residents at the South Bend Dismas House while I studied philosophy at Notre Dame in 1990, and I think it’s a great program. It’s got its obvious risks, and there was a lot of ex-offender turnover (due, almost entirely, to substance abuse relapses)–but it really did yield some good fruit, I’m convinced.

  11. Africanised Anglican says:

    By the way, Dismas House’s web address is .

  12. Words Matter says:

    drummie –

    I didn’t say anything about separation of church and state or stopping faith-based programs from operating (in fact, I said the opposite). As you say, I can’t force someone to attend a Christian program, and that’s all I am talking about it. As an agent of the state, I would be, in effect, establishing Christianity were I to require attendance at a Christian program. On that point, the ACLU and I would agree. At other times, I have argued against funding faith-based programs, but not as an establishment issue; my observation is that government money corrupts and distracts truly spiritual programs.

    FYI, we had Colson’s Christian prison program here in Texas and it got good reviews; I think it passed a constitutional challeng, although I’m not sure the current status. At one point, they went so far as to designate Christian parole officers for releasees from that site, and I don’t think that worked as well, though I would welcome information to the contrary.

  13. physician without health says:

    I think that Riley makes a good point here; with good outreach and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I can think of no better rehabilitation for anyone. I am a Democrat, and certainly have my differences with Riley, but have alot of admiration for him. The issue surrounding the lack of funds is simple: we pay unconscionably low taxes here. What’s more, we have a horribly regressive tax which disproportinately hits the poor. Attempts have been made to change that, including a valiant attempt by Riley himself, alas, all of these have failed. This is why there is so little available for prison rehab. There are a number of solid prison ministries, several have been mentrioned. I would also add the Kairos ministry to the list.