Arkansas to Dedicate Faith-Based Program for Female Inmates

DECEMBER 1, 2006 - Posted at 5:42 a.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Arkansas correction officials will dedicate a Bible-based program for female prisoners tomorrow.  But a national group opposed to the initiative said it's a risky move while a similar system is being challenged in federal court.

Forty-nine women have enrolled in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Wrightsville prison.   Under the program, inmates live in a separate unit and attend classes on skills including computer skills and anger management.  They also participate in religous devotionals.  After being released from prison, participants receive guidance from a mentor and a local religious group for at least six months.

The program, operated by Prison Fellowship Ministries, was dedicated for the Tucker Unit in June and 99 men are participating in the program.  Mark Earley, the program's president and chief executive officer, says the women's program has a capacity for 50 prisoners and the men's unit can take 120.

The dedication comes as Prison Fellowship Ministries appeals a federal judge's order to cease its program at the Newton Correctional Facility in Iowa.  A suit seeks repayment to the state of $1.53 milion in funding for the program.  Americans United for Separation of Church and State challenged the Iowa program, saying it violated the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause by using state funds to promote Christianity to inmates.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)