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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Oklahoma Faith-Based Prison Program Gets House Approval

By Tim Talley
Associated Press Writer
Tue, Mar. 13 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Preparing state inmates for life after prison and reducing the number of repeat offenders is the goal of legislation passed by the Oklahoma House Monday that encourages faith-based and volunteer groups to take a stronger role in rehabilitating Oklahoma inmates.

The measure by House Speaker Lance Cargill would encourage the state Department of Corrections to partner with faith-based, community and volunteer organizations to help inmates rejoin society and reduce recidivism rates in Oklahoma prisons.

State prison officials have already launched faith- and character-based programs at two state prisons, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center for women in McCloud and the medium-security Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, said DOC spokesman Jerry Massie.

"A lot of the religious portion of it is provided by volunteers," Massie said. "The goal is to improve their behavior while they're in prison but also to reduce recidivism after they're released."

Cargill, R-Harrah, said faith-based and volunteer groups want more input in counseling and rehabilitation of state inmates. Under the measure, recidivism rates would be tied to state prisons' performance reviews.

Cargill said statistics point out that two-thirds of all prison inmates commit new offenses and wind up back behind bars within three to five years.

"This bill removes any potential discrimination against faith-based groups who want to help prepare inmates to function in society once they're released," Cargill said. "It doesn't fund these groups or give them any financial assistance. It just fully opens up the doors for their participation."

The measure would establish incentives for partnerships between prison officials and faith-based and community groups. It would also encourage private and public groups to help inmates find jobs and services before they are released.

"There are many faith-based groups and volunteer organizations that already offer great tools to help our prison system reduce recidivism rates," Cargill said. "We want their participation, not their exclusion, so we need to make it easier for Oklahoma's corrections community to utilize those programs."

The bill, House Bill 2101, passed 95-1 and now moves to the state Senate for consideration. Similar legislation was approved last year in the House but was killed in the Senate.


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