Proposed Christian Prison: F*** You, Constitution!


So, there is a company that wants to create a privatized, voluntary prison run by and solely meant for Christians in Oklahoma.

A private firm proposing a prison in Wakita with all born-again Christian staff and programming does not yet have the commitments for prisoners it needs to begin construction.

Bill Robinson, the founder of Corrections Concepts Inc., a Dallas nonprofit prison ministry that is leading the proposal, said the bonding company that is financing the project will not release funds to begin construction until states or other jurisdictions have agreed to send 285 prisoners to the 624-bed facility.

"We're still working to get the adult facility done," Robinson said.

He said California has expressed an interest in sending adult inmates to Wakita, and he is in discussion with Kansas about it. Talks with Oklahoma are "in limbo."

The project has the support of city leaders in Wakita, a town near the Kansas border, and some civic leaders in the area.

"We'd be very supportive of it," said John Criner, the mayor of Enid, the largest nearby city. "We can't put any money into it, but I'd be more than happy to get him a resolution supporting the project."

Criner said Enid, which is 30 miles south of Wakita, was close enough to reap indirect economic benefit from the proposed prison.

Mayor Arden Chaffee of nearby Alva said the prison would have a positive effect on the area economy.

"It sounds like a great idea. I just don't know if they can finance something like that, which is a Christian concept, with public money," he said.

The concept of an all-Christian private prison has drawn the attention of a Washington, D.C., civil liberties group.

The group, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, sent a letter to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections asking it not to send prisoners to the proposed prison.

Alex Luchenitser, the group's senior litigation counsel, said its chief concern is that public funds would be used for religious worship and instruction. "We think this would be clearly unconstitutional," he said.

The organization also is concerned about possible civil-rights violations of prisoners, and public subsidy of an organization that hires only Christians, he said.

Robinson countered that the prison would be constitutional because inmates would go there voluntarily. He said he has legal opinions that say the prison, as a religious organization, can legally hire only people of like faith.

It seems to me that there are some obvious issues with the constitutionality of this idea, paramount being that a prison sentence is a government imposed sanction put on a person's freedoms after being found guilty of a crime. Isn't a Christian prison a violation of church and state, given that the only reason for the prison's existence is to facilitate the state imposed sanction? It seems to me that if the government is the one saying a person has to go to prison, the prison itself must adhere to the constitution, privatized or not.

Evidently, I'm not alone in feeling like this proposal is kind of, well, illegal. Especially is this proposed prison plans to take advantage of the government subsidies which most (if not all) private prisons depend on in order to shore up the financing for both building and maintaining all off the facets of a prison. If fact it would seem that, because any given state would have to give the go ahead for these religious institutions to be built in the first place, the establishment clause would be violated from the get go.

Americans United asserts it would be unconstitutional for government to support a prison that indoctrinates inmates in one faith and limits hiring based on religion.

“Taxpayers should never be forced to support religious indoctrination,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This scheme is fraught with constitutional problems, and no state should subsidize it.”

In letters to corrections officials, AU attorneys pointed out that a federal appeals court in 2007 struck down public funding of an evangelical Christian program at an Iowa prison. The Christian prison in Oklahoma, they say, would likely meet the same fate.

“If the Department were to provide funding to Corrections Concepts’ prison, indoctrination would be the inevitable result…,” Americans United asserted. “And, just as inevitably, the funding of such indoctrination would violate the Constitution.”

One area of American society I think could use a good dose of reform is the penal system, but I also think it's kind of arrogant for this company and its supporters to assume that taking what seems to be the status quo prison environment and giving it a Christian staff and Christian veneer is somehow an innovative improvement on what we have now.

That, of course, is me giving this corporation the benefit of the doubt.

Considering the fact that privatized prisons are big money makers AND factoring in that right now in America, religion seems to be an easy way for anyone to gain support for even the most convoluted ideas (*ahemTexasboardofeducationahem*), I personally don't see it as likely that this company is working on behalf of good natured Christians looking to make things better. I think this is a potentially lucrative business deal created with a religious slant in the hopes that the well intentioned and the zealous will give it unquestioning support.