Along with regular prayer sessions, the Lawtey Correctional Institution will offer religious studies, choir practice, religious counseling and other spiritual activities seven days a week. Participation is voluntary and inmates are free to transfer out.
"This is not just fluffy policy, this is serious policy," Bush told the crowd on Wednesday. "For the people who are skeptical about this initiative, I am proud that Florida is the home to the first faith-based prison in the United States."
Marlin Cliburn, inmate No. 575042, recently transferred to Lawtey, where he is serving 6 1/2 years for aggravated assault, auto theft and fleeing officers. "My life was headed down the wrong road," said Cliburn, a Baptist. "I've kind of seen the light. I've been screwing up my whole life. I see this as a turning point in my life."
Other prisons and programs have used religious thinking to try to turn inmates away from crime. The Prison Fellowship Ministries runs its Christ-centered InnerChange Freedom Initiative in prisons in Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa and Texas.
The idea of promoting God behind bars has a long history. From 1829 to 1913, for instance, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia used a Quaker-inspired system in which prisoners were isolated from each other and made to perform labor in hopes of encouraging spiritual reflection and change.