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An End in Itself: The Role of Religion in the Texas InnerChange Freedom Initiative, 1997-2007

Editor, Fiona
June 4, 2015

“In April 1997, Texas began a controversial faith-based prison program in the Jester II
Unit, a prison in Richmond (near Houston), which inmates meeting certain criteria could
volunteer to join. Originally called the “InnerChange” Pre-Release Program, the Prison
Fellowship Ministries’ InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) has operated for ten years in Texas.
Although IFI programs have been adopted by other states (Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and
Minnesota), the Richmond-based IFI program was the first in the country. It is also one of the
earliest manifestations of the recent faith-based corrections movement.Since the creation of prisons proper, religion has played a role of some kind, often
nothing more than whatever comfort and reformation of character a Bible and a chaplain could
provide. However, IFI uses religion in a much more intense and thorough way than did even the
regime at Eastern State Penitentiary, perhaps the first of IFI’s American predecessors. By all
accounts, including those of its participants and officials, IFI is unlike any other previous prison
program using religion as a motif or tool of incarceration.4 However, to date, IFI has captured
scholars’ attention little outside of the fact that it is potentially unconstitutional and is, possibly, a means of reducing the recidivism rate that plagues the nation’s jails and prisons.5 There is as yet
no account of the IFI program on its own terms nor of the actual role religion plays in the
program, aside from the ways in which the program may violate the Constitution’s protections of
religious freedom and prohibition against government involvement with religion. Thus, this
paper seeks to give a thorough historical and contemporary account of the IFI program as it
operates in Texas6 as well as of the role religion actually plays in its faith-based regime. This
latter goal will be accomplished by providing both illustrative and functional accounts of the role
of religion in IFI Texas.7 That is, to determine the role of religion, we shall first describe how
religion is included in the regime at Richmond, and then ask what purpose it is meant to serve.” (Excerpt from Author)


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