Jailhouse Converts?


Fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine by Chris Suellentrop on the evangelical right's newfound interest in prison and sentencing reform. Moved by the success of Chuck Colson's prison ministry, religious right stalwarts like Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum, and others are starting to see the damage done by "tough on crime" policies such as mandatory minimums and the abolition of parole.

Bully to them. This is a heartening development.

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  1. “Heartening”? Perhaps, but I’ll wait to unpack the party hats and noisemakers till after they roll back some of the draconian atrocities.

  2. I like it.

    I also see how this could be a cynical ploy by “faith-based groups” to get more federal funding by creating their own programs and lining up at the trough.

  3. You would be surprised. Evangelicals especially are becoming less socially conservative in some areas, possibly partly because they’re younger. I have even heard some consider the possbility the War on Drugs does more harm than good. There is a bit of self-servingness here, as its easier to draw converts with a big-tent outlook, but it seems sincere.

    Along with the regrettable dogma, there has long been an admirable strain of rationalism and debate among Christians.

  4. I’m in favor of the abolition of parole coupled with a reasonable sentencing structure that focused on a realistic connection between the crime and the time. Of course, it goes without saying that dopers and hookers wouldn’t be in jail at all.

  5. Libertarians and Conservative Evangelicals might have different ideas about morals, but the justice system is so outrageous right now that anyone who holds to any concept of justice would have to react against it.

  6. Captive indoctrination is what the right wing thinks is the proper use of prisons. and they look for every opportunity to jail as many people as possible.

    People are most susceptible to coercive indoctrination when they are bottoming out.

    The drug war especially, the source of some 60% or more of the prison population of America, has been used as a litmus test for non-conformist Americans who are then forced into court supervised social conformity indoctrination.

  7. Pat,
    We don’t support the troops fighting the War on Drugs?
    Seriously, I hope someone corrects me, but didn’t B. F. Skinner prove that punishment doesn’t work as a method to modify behaviour?
    Killin’ the specific people that need killin’ works, but, just as on the front line in war, a surprising percent can’t bring themselves to pull the trigger.
    And the last people we want pulling the trigger are bureaucrats.

  8. just as on the front line in war, a surprising percent can’t bring themselves to pull the trigger.

    I just don’t believe it. I’ve read it before (some claiming most don’t pull the trigger).

    Frontline conversation:
    “Why ain’t you shootin’, soldier?”
    “I don’t want to hurt anybody, sarge.”
    “Well, that guy over there wants to hurt you, and if you don’t start shootin’ at him, I’m gonna kick your ****.”

  9. george,
    Truth is stranger than fiction.
    This may have been the reason Julius Caesar had to decimate his troops.
    Humans are quirky.
    BTW, I trod the Ho Chi Minh trail back in 1969 and experienced what I’m tellin’ ya with my own eyes.
    (I personally pulled the damn trigger.)

  10. Too bad Brownback only spent one night in Angola a couple of weeks ago. Real time would have wiped the cheesy grin off this photo op:,2933,235727,00.html

  11. Ruthless

    You I’ll believe. I just read so many academics that weren’t there.

  12. BTW, I trod the Ho Chi Minh trail back in 1969 and experienced what I’m tellin’ ya with my own eyes. (I personally pulled the damn trigger.)

    I was there in ’70. The other problem is that most of the kids pulling triggers couldn’t hit anything. particularly on full auto “spray ‘n pray.”

    When they issued me my M-16 I asked, “Where do I sight it in?”

    They said, “Huh, Lieutenant?”

    I gritted my teeth. When they issued me my Infantry platoon I asked, “Hou many of you have sighted in your rifles?”

    They said, “Huh, LT?”

    I said— Well, never mind. They were good kids, and I brought them all back.

  13. “In his book on re-entry, ‘They All Come Back,’ Travis notes that only about 25 percent of the violent-crime reduction in the 1990s was because of ‘incapacitation’ – the fact that would-be criminals were locked up and unable to commit more crimes.”

    *Only* 25%? That seems like, you know, a lot.

    I also notice that the NYT article doesn’t draw distinctions among criminals. There’s no distinguishing between the guy who’s done multiple violent felonies (on one extreme) and Dave Dope-peddler (on another extreme). You can make a case for not locking up the latter at all and locking up the former for life. And for those in the middle — youths with first-offense burglaries and the like — what about them? Can’t the Times draw distinctions instead of just lumping all convicts together?

  14. I sat in on a meeting for a faith based group, and if done correctly, it’s actually a good plan for the ultimate privatization of welfare services.

    The status quo is that the city is going to build a community center in a down and out neighborhood. A building, some basketball courts, etc, and the city will staff it during normal business hours, into the early evening, and on weekends. In this, they’ll also offer all kinds of classes; anger management, personal budgeting 101, substance abuse help, etc.

    Under a faith based plan, the city gives a qualifying church the dough for the building, with a multiple year agreement agreeing to let the building be used as a community center. Absolutely no church or religious activities are allowed during biz hours, and the church staffs the building, teaches state approved – non religious classes, and so on.

    The city saves hundreds of thousands of dollars, even into the millions depending on the city and usage, and the church gets a building.

    And as long as there are groups of people who are thrown into apopleptic fits at the sight of a Christian church – and there always will be those types – such practices are not likely to get out of hand by breaking rules about proselytizing.

  15. Yes, I’m not surprised more modern evangelicals are pushing towards more socialistic policies. Socialism came from “Christian reformers”.

    Also, if you’ve ever been to jail they do forcefully try to indoctrinate you. When I was there (because of a small bag of marijuana :P), they forced everyone out of their cell and into a room where we had to listen to a preacher drone on, on how we all “needed to be saved”.

    If you didn’t go listen to said preacher inmates told me you would be beaten by guards.

    It’s the perfect place to indoctrinate and robotize men away from their inherent rights and goodness into strait-jacket conformists to whatever whim the current church pushes.

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