Do Faith-Based Prisons Work?
Alabama Law Review, Vol. 63, 2011
Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 11-99
53 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2011 Last revised: 4 Oct 2013
Date Written: 2011
This Article examines everything we know about the effectiveness of faith-based prisons, which is not very much.
Most studies cannot be taken seriously because they are tainted by the “self-selection problem.” It is hard to determine the effect of faith-based prison programs because they are voluntary, and volunteers are more likely to be motivated to change and are therefore already less likely to commit infractions or be re-arrested. This problem is the same one that education researchers have struggled with in determining whether private schools are better than public schools.
The only credible studies done so far compare participants with non-participants who volunteered for the program but were rejected. Some studies in this category find no effect, but some do find a modest effect. But even those that find an effect are subject to additional critiques: for instance, participants may have benefited from being exposed to treatment resources that non-participants were denied.
Thus, based on current research, there is no strong reason to believe that faith-based prisons work. However, there is also no strong reason to believe that they do not work. I conclude with thoughts on how faith-based prison programs might be improved, and offer a strategy that would allow such experimentation to proceed consistent with the Constitution.
Keywords: prisons, faith-based, empirics, self-selection, religion
JEL Classification: C10, H41, K14, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation