On Tuesday, the case of Holt vs. Hobbs went before the Supreme Court.
The case is brought by Gregory Holt, who is incarcerated in Arkansas and desires to grow a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith. Prison policy in Arkansas prohibits beards for security reasons. Holt is challenging this prohibition under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law that Prison Fellowship‘s founder, Chuck Colson, worked to pass.
Prison Fellowship has always believed that freedom of religion is a God-given right, and that men and women made in God’s image don’t forfeit that right upon conviction of a crime. That’s why Prison Fellowship submitted an amicus brief in support of Holt’s right to religious freedom as established in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has until summer 2015 to issue its opinion on the case.
By enacting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000, Congress decided that the ability of prisoners to exercise religious freedom was more important than any burden this freedom may place on prison employees. How the Supreme Court interprets Holt vs. Hobbs will determine more broadly the ways prisoners are allowed to express their religion, such as through faith-based programs and in-prison ministry activities.
Johnson’s article states, “… because faith-based prison ministries are an attractive, efficacious, and cost-effective means of reducing criminal recidivism, the legal issue is of enormous importance to all Americans – regardless of religious belief or disbelief.”
Johnson goes on to support the importance and success of faith-based programs by citing the results of studies done on Prison Fellowship’s in-prison ministry programs in New York, Texas, and Minnesota.
One study found that prisoners who participated in at least 10 Prison Fellowship Bible studies prior to release were 27 percent less likely to return to prison within the next year. And an independent auditor found that graduates of Prison Fellowship’s intensive two-year reentry program were nearly 30 percent less likely to be re-incarcerated.
Johnson writes, “These studies show that moderate participation in religious programs is one of the most statistically significant factors in reducing the recidivism rate of released criminals.”
Prison Fellowship’s programs also save taxpayers millions of dollars on in-prison programming and recidivism costs, since the programs are privately funded and proven to curb re-incarceration. In Minnesota, Prison Fellowship’s reentry program saved taxpayers about $3 million dollars within the program’s first six years of operation.
Thanks to all of Prison Fellowship’s ministry partners across the country, these faith-based in-prison programs are changing the future of America’s prisoners. Please pray that the Supreme Court rules an interpretation that preserves the religious freedoms of the incarcerated. And if you would like to help Prison Fellowship in God’s work of restoring prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, please visit prisonfellowship.org today.