Friday, July 07, 2006

Dissembling for Jesus

Alternate titles: Jesus Christ: Government Contractor or Cooking the Books for Christ

You all remember Charles Colson, don’t you boys and girls? He was one of Richard Nixon’s guys; did some time, and got religion? He founded Prison Fellowship Ministries and later the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (“IFI”). This latter organization has contracts with several states to help their prisoners get religion, too! Including Minnesota. IFI has gotten into a bit of a dust-up in Iowa, and that has implications, or should have for Minnesota, too. This is from a recent article by Media Transparency’s superb investigative reporter, Bill Berkowitz:
Over the past several years, Colson's InnerChange Freedom Initiative has partnered with prison authorities in several states, including Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri, to provide prisoners with a Christ-centered rehabilitation program.

In June, however, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt, chief judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, handed Colson's operation a setback. Judge Pratt ruled in favor of a suit filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United) which claimed that IFI's operation at Iowa's Newton Correctional Facility violated the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.

Judge Pratt had this to say about the IFI – Iowa team up:
"For all practical purposes, the state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional, and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates," wrote Pratt. "There are no adequate safeguards present, nor could there be, to ensure that state funds are not being directly spent to indoctrinate Iowa inmates."

Pratt also pointed out that "The level of religious indoctrination supported by state funds and other state support in this case in comparison to other programs treated in the case law ... is extraordinary."

In other words, the judge thought they went way overboard. Here are just a couple of the judge’s findings:
There is no comparable secular or religious program elsewhere in the Iowa prison system. Inmates who want a long-term comprehensive rehabilitation program have no other choices.

The living conditions and privileges afforded InnerChange participants are sufficiently superior to those afforded the general prison population as to be incentives to join the program. In effect, inmates are rewarded for their participation in a religious program.

IFI of course rose up in righteous indignation and vowed to appeal, saying that Judge Pratt’s decision was a denial of religious freedom. Oh? The trouble is, these evangelical fools really seem to believe that! It is rather recognition that injecting IFI into a prison is a massive boost to religion in contravention of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Just imagine if the Buddhists, who might actually run a pretty good program, come to think of it, tried to muscle in on the action. The inmates can still practice any religion they want. Judge Pratt’s decision was a just a denial of a religious organization’s ability to suckle at the public teat.

Now for Minnesota. On June 15th, the Star Tribune published an editorial critical of IFI at Lino Lakes. Mark Earley, the president of Prison Fellowship Ministries and a defender of IFI, and Al Quie, former governor of the State of Minnesota and chairman of IFI, responded to the editorial. Again quoting from Berkowitz:
In early July, Earley and Al Quie, the former governor of Minnesota and chairman of the IFI Board of Directors, responded to what they charged were "some erroneous statements in its June 15 editorial on the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program at Minnesota's Lino Lakes prison," published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

While acknowledging that IFI's program is "faith-based," Earley and Quie maintained that the program is not coercive and has "help[ed] the state to reduce recidivism, enhance security (through improved inmate accountability), and lower correctional costs."

Earley and Quie capped their argument by citing "An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania [that] showed that graduates of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Texas were far less likely to return to prison within two years than inmates who did not participate in IFI (8 percent compared to 20 percent)."

Here’s the dissembling part. That ain’t true. Here’s part of what Mark Kleinman said in the linked Slate article:
But when you look carefully at the Penn study, it's clear that the program didn't work. The InnerChange participants did somewhat worse than the controls: They were slightly more likely to be rearrested and noticeably more likely (24 percent versus 20 percent) to be reimprisoned. If faith is, as Paul told the Hebrews, the evidence of things not seen, then InnerChange is an opportunity to cultivate faith; we certainly haven't seen any results. [italics are Spot’s]

So, how did the Penn study get perverted into evidence that InnerChange worked? Through one of the oldest tricks in the book, one almost guaranteed to make a success of any program: counting the winners and ignoring the losers. The technical term for this in statistics is "selection bias"; program managers know it as "creaming." Harvard public policy professor Anne Piehl, who reviewed the study before it was published, calls this instance of it "cooking the books."

Kleinman goes on to explain how the books were cooked. Shame on you Governor Quie for referring to this bunkum! Spot wonders: how much money have Minnesota taxpayers paid for this holy horse pucky?


Update: Corrected reference to Mark Earley

No comments: