LAWTEY, Fla. – Nearly 38 percent of Florida’s released inmates return to prison at some point. To alter the pattern of repeated offence, officials began the nation’s first faith-based prison, Wednesday, December 24.
"Wouldn't it be nice if we could figure out a way to lower that 38 percent closer to zero percent, for your family and your community?" Gov Jeb Bush asked the 800 prisoners present. "This is not just fluffy policy, this is serious policy. 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."
The inmates at Lawtey Correctional were told of the change in November, and were given the option to transfer out. 111 prisoners transferred out, but others transferred in immediately.
"You don't have to be here, you've chosen to be here. It's no different, from what I've been told, from the other correction facilities. You still have to work, you still have to follow the rules, but you've committed yourself to a higher authority," Bush said.
Religious activities are available daily, but participation is voluntary. Prisoners must stay out of trouble for at least a year to transfer to Lawtey and will be transferred out for discipline problems.
The 791 prisoners represent 26 faiths. The prison has 500 volunteers to help with religious instruction and serve as mentors. Prison officials are seeking another 500 volunteers.
During the dedication ceremony, many of the prisoners jumped to their feet, smiled brightly and clapped in rhythm as a gospel singer performed "His Eye is on the Sparrow." Some shouted "Sing it!" and "Amen!"
Later Bush told the inmates, "I can't think of a better place to reflect on the awesome love of our lord Jesus than to be here at Lawtey Correctional. God bless you."