Religious Studies Cited for Reducing Prison Violence

A religious program in a medium-security prison in California, based on the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rev. Rick Warren, is being credited for reducing inmate violence, the Associated Press reported May 13.

The Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, Calif., has been notorious for race-based gang attacks. But since inmates have begun reading a chapter of the 40-chapter book a day, violence has declined.

“We couldn’t go more than two weeks without a lockdown or without one gang attacking another,” said Hector Lozano, who coordinates the prison’s addiction-treatment programs. “This got people talking together, as opposed to having one group charge another group.”

To date, 440 of the medium-security unit’s 1,200 inmates have completed the book. Each day, they read a chapter and then reflected on and discussed in a group setting its relevance to their lives.

Since the religious studies began in 2003, there has been one riot, 67 violent incidents, four staff assaults, 1,067 inmate disciplinary reports and one lockdown. The year prior to the program, there were five riots, 103 violent incidents, four staff assaults, 1,226 inmate disciplinary reports and five lockdowns.

Prison spokesman Lt. Kenny Calhoun said the religious program “has definitely played a role” in the decline in violence.

A Bible-based 12-step program has evolved from the religious studies. About 100 inmates are participating in the program, which helps them deal with alcohol and other drug addiction, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and other problems.

Warren’s church in Orange County donated the books, Bibles, study materials, and videos for the religious studies. The church also sponsors the 12-step program.