By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
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But when Kleiman read the Penn study, he was dismayed. Kleiman says the study "gives you this happy horseshit about the graduates, but if you look at the 'intent to treat,' it's a loser." He accuses InnerChange of cherry-picking inmates who likely already have the drive and discipline to succeed.
Last month at msn.com, Kleiman published a scathing essay titled "Faith-Based Fudging." Kleiman wrote that the study results "ought to discourage InnerChange's advocates, but it doesn't because they have just ignored the failure of the failures and focused on the success of the successes."
Graduation from InnerChange requires six months of employment after release. Kleiman says, "Most of the recidivism risk is in the first six months and one of the best predictors of recidivism is employment." Of the 177 prisoners tracked in the study, only 75 graduated. The study did not track whether the control group was employed and Kleiman says, "Anything that selects out from a group of ex-inmates those who hold jobs is going to look like a miracle cure." Social scientists call it selection bias.
"The InnerChange cheerleaders simply ignored the other 102 participants who dropped out, were kicked out or got early parole and didn't finish," says Kleiman. "If you select out the winners, you leave mostly losers."
As a group, of the 177 prisoners in the InnerChange Fellowship Initiative program, 36 percent were arrested within two years and 24 percent were incarcerated within that time. This compares to 35 percent arrested and 20 percent incarcerated in the control group that had no exposure to the special Christian ministry.
Kleiman says selection bias is "the oldest trick in the book," but not an uncommon one. "You see the same methodology in drug treatment studies," he says. "You don't have to be a Christian to be a liar."
Jerry Bryan says it's not fair to count the nongraduates. He's been the chaplain at the Vance Unit since InnerChange began in 1997. Bryan has worked at some of the state's worst prisons and believes the InnerChange program is nothing short of miraculous, even if some aren't interested in the miracle. "There's a pool of people who don't get anything," says Bryan. "That shouldn't count against us." He says, "Many offenders volunteer for all the wrong reasons. The most prevalent is 'I'll get more visits.' "
The Vance Unit's proximity to Harris County, which supplies TDCJ with a quarter of its prisoners, can seem attractive to a Houston inmate doing time in Amarillo. InnerChange also has several family days per year, where prisoners can spend quality time with their wives and children. Some volunteer for the program because of that, or to get away from the violence and racial tension that pervade TDCJ.
One ex-convict faked his way through the program. David Doherty was offered the chance to attend InnerChange three years ago by the chaplain at the maximum-security prison in West Texas where Doherty had been stuck for years. The Houston native didn't have to think long about moving to a minimum-security prison a half-hour drive from home.
"I didn't want my people coming 500 miles for a two-hour visit," says Doherty. "I heard the Vance Unit was easy time and I figured I could just ride along with [the Christian programming] until I got paroled." He adds, "After a while, I think they kind of knew I wasn't really into it. They would always be asking if you were saved and all that.
"As long as you go to class, do the homework and don't act stupid, they don't really mess with you too much," says Doherty, who hasn't had any contact with InnerChange since he paroled from the Vance Unit. He says, "They're good people, but I wasn't into all that rah-rah stuff." Doherty says he enjoyed working on the Habitat for Humanity projects that InnerChange aids, but he is still on parole and asked that his real name not be used in this story.
InnerChange gives prisoners access to equipment that most can only dream about, such as the computer class that offers Microsoft-certified training or the course that allows an inmate to obtain a commercial driver's license, as Theo Bailey did before his release.
At the Vance Unit, fights are virtually unheard of, the guards are friendly, and the living conditions are as good or better than any prison in Texas. Convicts call it a Cadillac Unit, and some believe that if they turn down the offer to volunteer for InnerChange, parole may be denied. Another inducement may simply be to spend most of the day in air-conditioned classrooms. Muslims, Jews and atheists have all attended InnerChange. Bryan says most who graduate end up becoming Christians.
That bothers the members of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who say the InnerChange program at an Iowa prison is unconstitutional, akin to state-sponsored religion. Unlike the original Texas program, the other three InnerChange facilities (Kansas and Minnesota each have one) receive varying degrees of state funding. One purpose of Colson's visit to Washington this summer was to drum up support on Capitol Hill for federal dollars to be made available to religious organizations.