Reentry and Integration Division
Prison seminary proposed
By Mike Ward | Monday, May 24, 2010, 02:02 PM
After visiting a once-violent Louisiana prison that is now ranked as one of the most tame thanks to a minister-training program, two key state senators today proposed bringing the concept to Texas.
The proposal is to locate a religious seminary inside a Texas lockup.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, a member of the committee, said they think that the rehabilitation project that has worked well at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola could be just as successful in Texas.
Whitmire and Patrick spent three days last week at the Angola lockup, once ranked as the most violent prison in America, along with representatives of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Bible College.
“I found this to be a remarkable program that Sen. Patrick and I will present to state leadership and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, and will work with Texas prison officials to locate the right unit, the right warden, and the right staff to duplicate the effort in Texas,” Whitmire said.
“It certainly deserves the attention of our state leaders and prison officials.”
As the largest maximum-security prison in the United States with about 5,000 violent-crime felons — more than 3,600 of them serving life sentences — the prison now houses an arm of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary which provides a four-year program that so far has trained about 150 ministers.
Whitmire said the program soon will be spread to other prisons in Louisiana.
Graduates of the special program — many of them who are serving life terms — serve as ministers to non-violent offenders “who will eventually return to their communities with a new outlook on life helping to reduce recidivism, saves lives and families, and prevent future victims,” Whitmire said.
During their visit to Angola, Whitmire, Patrick and the other Texas officials were briefed by stakeholders in the prison program, attended church services and talked with inmates who are enrolled.
“Our ultimate goal is to make our communities safer by changing the character of prisoners so when released they do not go back to a life of crime,” Patrick said. “What we witnessed at Angola was truly amazing. The bible college has changed the culture of Angola.
“I look forward to working with Chairman Whitmire to bring this concept to Texas prisons,” he added.
Whitmire said that during one religious service he was so surprised by what he saw that he passed a note to the warden.
“I had never seen so many men serving life sentences with a smile on their face,” Whitmire said. “The warden replied that with a moral attitude, even if an inmate will not be set free in this world, he looks forward to being free in the next.”
Texas has religious programs at all of its 112 state prisons, and allows religious mentoring at several for felons who are about to end their sentence as part of re-entry programs.