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Religion Takes the Stand

Today at The Immanent Frame, I discuss with Winnifred Fallers Sullivan her challenging theses about the failures of American law to account for lived religion and, most urgently, her recent book on the role of religious organizations in prison reform.

In Prison Religion, you reveal how the American, secular prison system has largely given up on rehabilitation. Yet, at the end of the trial, the judge rules that the religious rehabilitation program has to close. Do you think we can afford to turn down those who offer to help in ways that the government won’t?

Let me make clear that I honor the service of the volunteers and the staff at Prison Fellowship Ministries, which is doing work that most Americans don’t want to think about, let alone do. And I think they’ve become more professional over time. But clearly it is not enough for church volunteers to come and be nice to prisoners. Prisoners need an array of serious professional interventions. This is not something that can be done simply by people who are well-meaning. As a society, it’s tremendously cynical, and a real abdication of our responsibility, to say that we aren’t going to spend the money to do this—that these people are basically throw—away people who deserve only an amateur substitute for what really needs to be done in terms of education, job training, and medical and mental health care. These are all interventions that we do know how to do. We just aren’t willing to spend the money. And there is a growing acknowledgment that there should be fewer prisoners and fewer prisons. This is another area where we can learn from other countries.

Continue reading at The Immanent Frame.