Inmates: religion then release?

Jodi, a high school friend, asked me to introduce myself and to be a guest on her blog.  I am Mary Byrd and I identify myself as a wife and mother of three.  I have a bachelor degree–my field of study was psychology, sociology and criminal justice.  Currently, I am employed as a case manager at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas.  I began my career working with inmates at Arkansas Department of Corrections, a low security facility.   In 2001, I began working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas.

As the prison population grows, I find myself asking a question…when should inmates be released early?  Due to over-crowding in prisons, new pilot programs are being implemented so inmates may return to society without serving their complete sentence.  Which inmates are appropriate for early release?  Also, should inmates who have had a religious conversion be considered for release?   As Christians, we know God forgives all sinners.  When should we as a society lesson the consequences for their crimes?  Are some criminals’ crimes too horrific?

Recently, a documentary on Phillip Garrido was featured on the Discovery Health Channel.  Phillip Garrido was sentenced to fifty year for abducting and sexually assaulting a young girl.  According to the documentary, the chaplain recommended Phillip Garrido for parole.  The parole was granted,  Phillip Garrido served only ten years when he was released from prison.  After Phillip Garrido was released from prison he abducted an eleven year old girl.  He imprisoned her, in his backyard, for eighteen years.  He also fathered two of her children.  Are sex offenders too dangerous to be released back into society?

Religious conversions are real.  I believe inmates do experience religious conversions.  God has not given me the ability to see into someone’s soul.  I can only judge a person by their past.  I believe Phillip Garrido had a religious conversion.  I also believe he may have been a model inmate. Now, wait…I do not excuse the behavior of Phillip Garrido, but according to the documentary, he was religious even after his release from prison.  He even wrote a religious blog.  His religious views may have been odd or even delusional, but he is religious.

An inmate I worked with had a religious conversion, of sorts, he became a Muslim.  In fact, he became the leader of the Muslims at our facility.  He was useful to the administration because he kept other Muslim inmates in line.  However, years earlier, this inmate while serving time, killed a correctional officer.  It wasn’t because that particular correctional officer had done something wrong.  No, he killed the officer simply because he wanted to kill.  This inmate has been valuable by maintaining peace.  He has de-escalated tension on the yard and prevented many prison disturbances.  The inmate is respected by his peers because he killed an officer.  He is resented by some correctional staff because he killed an officer.  However, he is respected by the administration.  Today, this inmate is obviously not the same man he was thirty years ago, when he killed the officer.  Should he be considered for release?

David Berkowitz, according to an earlier article on Jodi’s blog, also experienced a religious conversion.  Is David Berkowitz a changed man?  Could a serial killer ever be trusted in society?

Religion is an important part of programming in the prison system.  Prison officials have found inmates who are spiritual are typically better behaved inmates.  Inmates are allowed to have religious material, participate in various religious programs, and maintain a religious diet.  In fact, religion is so important, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has developed the Life Connections Program.  The Life Connections Program is a residential re-entry program, which was implemented by the Religious Services department.  Any federal inmate who wishes to participate in the Life Connections Program must first be eligible and then apply through religious services.  Inmates who complete the Life Connection Program are eligible for time off their prison sentence.

As the prison population grows, we as a society will need to determine who will be eligible for a second opportunity and who will not.  Years ago, prisons were a place of punishment.  Today, prisons are called correctional facilities.  The goal of correctional facilities is not to punish, but to rehabilitate inmates.  Unfortunately, currently prisons are horrible at rehabilitating inmates.

–Fence photo taken from the Bureau of Prisons web page: http://www.bop.gov/locations/index.jsp
–Second photo is of the Beaumont, TX facility, found at http://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/bmp/index.jsp

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