I enjoyed reading your front-page story on the experimental Texas prison program being run by Chuck Colson's organization, Prison Fellowship ["Converting Convicts to Christians," Nov. 27]. But several points confused me.
If Inner Change is a voluntary program funded by private donations (not public tax dollars) for inmates interested in learning more about Christianity, why is anyone complaining about the fact that its volunteers do not provide instruction in the Koran? Isn't this akin to picking on a Jewish deli for not serving ham?
And since Inner Change is a new program, why is anyone belaboring the fact that there is "little empirical evidence that religious programs work more effectively" than conventional prison programs? Isn't this a bit like refusing to hire someone for an entry-level job because he lacks experience?
Princeton University criminologist John DiIulio reports growing evidence that church participation reduces inner-city youth crime. Furthermore, a recent study published in Justice Quarterly found markedly lower recidivism rates among ex-cons who participated in prison Bible studies.
Finally, if Colson is a respected religious leader who has previously received the (not-exclusively Christian) Templeton Prize for his work in advancing spiritual understanding, is it appropriate for your paper to use adjectives such as "apocalyptic" to describe his prison ministry?
Are we to believe that Colson should now be considered a fanatical figure, like Jim Jones or David Koresh?
Your paper is to be commended for doing a story on the Inner Change program--and for maintaining a healthy skepticism about it until objective data on its long-term effects can be accumulated. But Texas officials have not taken some sort of blind leap of faith in permitting this experimental program to go forward.
Concerned taxpayers should not be troubled by the fact that some Texas prison inmates are voluntarily attending prison Bible studies instead of watching Jerry Springer on inmate TV.
--William R. Mattox Jr.