A Clean Slate?

Prison has been a revolving door. Prisoners arrive, serve their time, and leave, and 70 percent commit new crimes. A recent study found that inmates who had graduated from Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative, or IFI, are breaking that pattern. The study, conducted by Byron Johnson of the University of Pennsylvania, compared 177 inmates who had participated in IFI with a similar group, called the control group, that did not participate. It's important to note that the IFI group included both those who graduated from the program and those who dropped out or whom the state moved out. Johnson found that when you looked at all IFI participants, including dropouts, the re-arrest and reincarceration rates were essentially the same as the prisoners who didn't participate -- understandable. But the difference IFI makes comes out when you looked at those who completed the program: They were two times less likely to be re-arrested, and the study showed an 8 percent recidivism rate compared with 20 percent in the control group, or 67 percent in the country at large. A success story? It certainly is, but not according to the online news and comment site The title says it all -- "Faith-Based Fudging: How a Bush-promoted Christian prison program fakes success by massaging data." The reference to the president and the use of the expression 'faith-based' suggest that part of Prison Fellowship's sin in the eyes of the editors is the president's support for our efforts. The author of the Slate article, Professor Mark A. R. Kleiman of UCLA, writes that the conclusions of the study, the ones based on those who completed the program, aren't "worth the paper [they're] printed on." Oh? Looking at the outcomes for all IFI participants, including those who dropped out of the program, Kleiman writes that IFI "has a net effect of zero or a little worse than zero. That makes it a loser." He dismisses IFI director Jerry Wilger's argument that it isn't "fair to count the performance of the people who dropped out of his program against" IFI -- an objection Kleiman says "misses the point entirely." Wait a minute: It's Kleiman who is missing the point. IFI isn't a magic wand. We have never argued that mere exposure to the program would make a lasting difference. It's a program! The goal is to "re-educate" men over the course of a year, men who have spent most of their lives breaking the law, and we want to make them think and then live in a totally different way. IFI seeks to undo the habits of a lifetime. When you see it in that context, the post-release success of our graduates ought to encourage us and thrill the country, not prompt accusations of "fudging and fraud." What's more, if you applied Kleiman's standards across the board, just think what would happen to the literacy programs that he cites as his favorite example. If we included the post-release record of those who attended just a little bit, but never learned to read, what kind of result would you get? Regrettably, this kind of fairness doesn't suit the purpose of people whose objective is to score points against the president. For them, it doesn't matter that the real losers in this would be the inmates whose lives can be changed, which we have demonstrated. Let the figures speak for themselves.


Chuck Colson


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