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Reflections on Ethics 23
Teaching Christianity in Jails

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A "Faith-based" prison, Lawtey Correctional Institute, has been opened in Florida.[1] Prisoners will get daily worship services and prayer-based rehabilitation delivered by predominantly Protestant ministries.

In exchange for willingness to undergo 3-4 hours of Christian indoctrination a day, prisoners will have experience more peaceful surroundings and more lenient treatment. It can also be expected they will receive more post-release support, thanks to the various ministries involved.

This is one case in which Pascal's wager works. For convincingly demonstrating a willingness to follow Christianity, the prisoners are rewarded, not in the afterlife, but immediately in the current one. They get a chance to be treated as human beings rather than animals.

But is this right?

Why should "Christian" prisoners get a break?

Why are there not similar programs for all prisoners to rehabilitate them?

Is there reason to think the program will work?

If the program does work, will it be due to Christian teachings, or the more humane treatment?

Treating prisoners differently based on religious belief is wrong. It discriminates against all those of different faiths. It encourages lying. It teaches hypocrisy. One outcome of this program will be better prevarication skills. Perhaps dishonesty is useful in many legal professions, but it is also valuable in returning to a life of crime.

Surely, if teaching Christian morality will reform prisoners, so will teaching the Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha'i morality. As would teaching them secular ethics.

And regardless of the outcome, there will be no evidence that any change in recidivism rates will be due to promoting Christianity. It will be impossible to gauge the effect of religious teaching when other variables, such as living conditions are changed for the better at the same time.

And if peaceful surroundings and more lenient treatment are part of the package that produces prisoners less likely to re-offend, then such benefits should be offered to all prisoners. And all prisoners should receive training in ethics and morality delivered in the religion or non-religion of their choice.

But offering a strictly Christian-oriented package is wrong. You could even say it is criminal.



  1. Globe and Mail - 17 March, 2004