Court overturns legal challenge to prison ministry


A ruling against a long-standing prison ministry that was in danger of being barred from Iowa prisons was overturned in a federal court on Monday.

A lower court had ordered Prison Fellowship Ministries’ InnerChange Freedom Initiative to repay $1.5 million to the state because of alleged constitutional violations in its prisoner rehabilitation program.  The Federal Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an inter-faith public interest law firm, represented InnerChange and Prison Fellowship in its appeal.

Becket Fund National Litigation Director Eric Rassbach called the decision "a huge victory for faith-based programs." 

"A $1.5 million judgment against them would have crippled the most successful criminal rehabilitation program in the state. The Eight Circuit decided faith-based organizations can't be blindly excluded just because they are faith-based. States have to consider what the programs are actually doing,” Rassbach said.

Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley expressed gratitude to the court for the decision.  "What was at stake here, at its heart, is public safety. The keys to reducing recidivism and protecting the public from repeat offenses are the very kinds of effective rehabilitation and re-entry services provided by the InnerChange Freedom Initiative," he said.

InnerChange provides all its prisoner rehabilitation services free of charge.  Today’s ruling permits InnerChange to continue its programs using private funds.

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