Faith-Based Prisons: Subordinating the State in Neo-Liberal America

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Brad Stoddard, Florida State University
In the proposed presentation, I intend to examine the spread of faith-based prisons in order to highlight how faith-based prisons represent a new stage in establishment clause jurisprudence.  The population of the United States comprises less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we incarcerate more than one quarter of the world’s prisoners.  This massive prison system strains the state’s financial resources, forcing states to search for new and innovative ways to finance state-funded incarceration.  Faith-based prisons and the waves of volunteer labor that accompany them are becoming increasingly attractive to cash-strapped states eager to reduce the financial burdens caused by mass incarceration and high rates of recidivism, although state-funded faith-based prisons necessarily raise a variety of First Amendment issues.  In the proposed presentation, I will briefly trace the history of prison reform in America, highlighting how religious Americans have had an interest in reforming both prisons and prisoners since America first experimented with the modern penitentiary system in the late 1700s.  Second, I will examine the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence that renders faith-based prisons constitutionally viable.  Finally, I will examine the legislation that created the first faith-based prisons.  The verbiage in this legislation states that the government, academia, and all non-religious forms of “specialization” are inherently inferior and must therefore subordinate themselves to privatized religion.  This marks a new era in First Amendment jurisprudence, as state laws are institutionalizing the superiority of religion.
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