Losing Faith in Faith-Based Prison

In 2000, The Dallas Morning News ran an op-ed that pimped out the locally based Corrections Concepts Inc., which was trying to get off the ground by selling faith-based prisons to states. According to the piece, written by a professor of economics at Texas A&M University who happened to be an unpaid member of the company's board:

"Corrections Concepts Inc. would offer a faith-based program that teaches personal responsibility, victim restitution and family support. Inmates' employment with private industry would help defray the costs. In fact, the special-purpose prison would furnish everything for at least 10 percent under the state's current costs for housing prisoners."

But it took five years before CCI could find any takers for its Christianity-behind-bars concept: Last fall, Tom Green County commissioners (that's San Angelo, for you Texas transplants and MTV fans) OK'd the Dallas company's proposal to build a prison way out west. But, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in September, the state wasn't interested. At all.

"'We simply are not in the market for that kind of space at this time,' said Mike Viesca, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice...Such a proposal has been rejected in other parts of Texas, including Midland County, where officials a little more than a year ago worried that a jail with Bible classes would violate the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state."

Well, yesterday CCI's plans to build a prison in San Angelo turned to dust. After three San Angelo reisidents resigned from the board of directors, Tom Green commissioners unanimously killed the deal, leaving CCI without a single prison to its name. The San Angeloans quit because of some dispute over precisely who was running the company: ousted controversial chairman Bill Robinson or new bossman Forrest Watson, who was begging San Angelo to give him more time as recently as last month. I woulda bailed when I discovered a 6-year-old company that wants to build prisons with state and local money can't even get its Web site up, but that's just me. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky