Yesterday, the TDCJ embarked on a new and interesting program in the Darrington Unit near Rosharon. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will be opening an extension campus inside the walls of the prison and will be offering a course of study that will result in the participants earning a bachelor’s degree that will prepare them to be pastors and/or teachers.
The Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies requires 124 credit hours of classes and will take approximately 4 years of study to complete. The curriculum will be focused on equipping men for Christian Ministry in such a way that they will be able to properly teach, preach and minister to the population of believers within the prison system. Upon their release, they will be equipped to be teachers and pastors.
A similar program has been running for a few years at the notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana. The results there have been nothing short of phenomenal. The program participants continue to live among the other inmates, but begin to act as good examples to the others. This has led to a marked decline in the level of violence in the prison.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, championed the program along with his colleague, John Whitmire, D-Houston, after the lawmakers visited Angola Prison last year to observe a similar program, which has been credited for a 70 percent reduction in violence at Angola since it started in 1995.
“We were both blown away,” Patrick said. “We were able to walk freely in that prison where almost everyone there is serving 50 years or more – major, major criminals. The first night we were there, we went to a gospel chapel service. It was just us. There were no guards. I don’t know that you could do that in a Texas prison.”
The ACLU has a bit of a problem with this, natch. Even though it is entirely voluntary and there is no requirement to proselytize to others or to convert to Christianity or any faith. Likewise the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“On the one hand I think we’re very encouraged that they’re providing programming for inmates,” said Dotty Griffith, public education director for Texas ACLU. “At the same time it does appear to be very sectarian in nature … I think it gives us some concerns about separation issues because it seems to exclude other faiths and it would exclude prisoners who might want to study a different denomination or a different religion altogether.”
No taxpayer funds used
The program appears to overstep the permissible bounds of religious chaplaincy programs in prisons, which are not supposed to proselytize, said Alex Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Maybe they should stop and reflect for a bit on why there are so many people incarcerated and the root causes thereof.