Today’s New York Times reports that the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana, has a Southern Baptist Bible College in it which is exclusively for the prisoners. When Warden Burl Cain, a Christian evangelical, first came there in 1995, he asked the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to establish the college. It is the first, four-year, accredited college program in a prison.
But that’s not all that is unusual about this prison. It has 18,000 acres, mostly grazing land for cattle. Most inmates work the cattle and care for the crops on the rolling hills of farmland. The 48th annual Angola Prison Rodeo was held this summer, the only prison rodeo still going in America, and they call it “the Wildest Show in the South.” And get this–its the only prison in America with its own public golf course.
This is the largest maximum security prison in the U.S., with a past reputation of much violence by inmates. In fact, up until the 1970s it was called “the bloodiest prison in America.” Over 75% of its inmates have lifetime sentences or its equivalent. And 75% of its 6,300 inmates are black. At least 90% of the prisoners die there. Yet, about 2,500 of the prisoners attend its Bible college. Warden Cain says, “the Bible College was a game changer,” transforming prisoners and giving them a sense of community. The idea is being tried elsewhere, and it could become a movement that catches on in American prisons.
Experts argue about whether or not this Angola Prison’s Bible college reduces prisoner recidivism. But statistics show that its prisoner violence has been reduced considerably over the past two decades. In 1990, it had 1,387 prisoner assaults against prison staff and other prisoners; but in 2012 it had only 366 such assaults. That’s a whopping 380% improvement!
But wouldn’t you know it; the ACLU is watching this prison Bible college like a hawk. The school remains legal because it accepts inmates no matter what their religious affiliation, and it’s financed from sources outside the state government. Let’s hope the ACLU doesn’t mess this up by taking God not only out of the schools, but out of the prisons.