Dec. 24, 2003 –
Telling 800 inmates that their commitment to a â€œhigher authorityâ€� can keep them from returning to jail, Florida Governor Jeb Bush dedicated what is being called the countryâ€™s first â€œfaith-based prisonâ€� as part of a new state prison program in Lawtey, Florida.
The entire medium-security prison, according to Bush, will be devoted to faith-based activities. The St. Petersburg Times reports the Lawtey Correctional Institution will offer Bible study, choir practice, and religious counseling among â€œother spiritual activities.â€� Financial skills, anger management courses, and other â€œlife-skillsâ€� will be taught to the inmates as well.
Nine other prisons already have similar programs, but are limited to â€œdormitories,â€� says the Times. Florida prison officials stress that participation in Lawteyâ€™s unique prison life is voluntary, but inmates who do not wish to join in will be moved out and others, â€œwho are seeking to better themselves,â€� according to a Department of Corrections official, will be moved in. After the November announcement of Lawteyâ€™s impending conversion from a secular to spiritual prison, 111 prisoners transferred out. Their spots were filled by volunteers from other prisons.
Death row inmates, inmates with recent disciplinary problems, or inmates who are more than three years away from their release date will not be accepted to Lawtey.
While the Times reported that â€œ26 faithsâ€� are represented at Lawtey, Governor Bush nevertheless told assembled inmates, â€œI canâ€™t think of a better place to reflect on the awesome love of our lord Jesus than to be here at Lawtey Correctional. God bless you.''
Florida American Civil Liberties Union director Howard Simon told the Associated Press Lawtey was part of â€œa major constitutional showdown'' over government funding for religious projects.
The Times reports that at a December conference of the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the new prison program and scolded critics who say using taxpayer money to fund religious organizations violates the separation of church and state.
"Government is not designed for love," Ashcroft said. "It is designed for entitlement. It is designed for organization."