Religious prison program in doubt

A Bible-based Iowa prison treatment program that has attracted national attention could be shut down July 1 because Iowa lawmakers decided not to renew its $310,000 state appropriation.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt of Des Moines last year ruled that the program at the Newton prison violates the First Amendment’s clause barring government from the establishment of religion. But his order to close the program, in which inmates immerse themselves in evangelical Christianity, has not been enforced while an appeal is pending with the U.S. Court of Appeals…

Norman Cox, vice president of Prison Fellowship Ministries and the InnerChange program, said this week he hopes an agreement can be reached with Iowa prison officials to allow the Newton program to remain in operation.

Iowans who support the program have already agreed they will “step up and help us raise the funds” to permit it to operate without government money, Cox said.