March 4, 2016 Print

Jeff Green was incarcerated for 30 years. After his release, he completed Prisoners of Christ’s program and is now a Maintenance Manager over seven restaurants.

Government bureaucracies are rarely effective or efficient at providing crucial social services to the less fortunate. Private and nonprofit organizations with charitable aid missions, however, often work wonders with few resources. That’s the case for Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries in Florida, which helps former convicts reassimilate into society by providing job training, transportation, medical services, and substance abuse recovery. Atlas Network partner the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty recently won a case defending the organization against a lawsuit that would have barred it from receiving the same kind of government funding as other nonprofit aid groups.

“For over a decade, Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries have partnered with the state to provide housing, employment assistance, food, and other basic needs to thousands of former inmates,” the Becket Fund explains. “And studies show that the programs slash recidivism rates, benefitting both the inmates and society. All of this comes at significant savings to taxpayers: The state covers just a fraction of the daily cost, sometimes less than $15 a day. Not only do men receive food, clothing, and a place to stay, but the private groups provide twelve-step programs and optional religious services, at no cost to the state.”

The Second Judicial Circuit Court ruling held that during the eight years this case has been in litigation, it has not been demonstrated that Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries uses government funding for institutional religious purposes — rather, the money is devoted solely toward its effective charitable aid mission.

“The Court was right to reject a discriminatory attempt to punish successful prisoner ministries simply because they were run by religiously-inspired people,” said Lori Windham, senior legal counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Former prisoners need help, and it’s wrong to stop people who are helping just because naysayers on the sidelines don’t like religion. It’s a pity that the ministries and the men they serve had to wait on pins and needles for a nearly decade because an activist group — who had no interest in helping prisoners or providing alternatives — had nothing better to do than try to bully a successful program out of existence.”

The Becket Fund points out that Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries has helped more than 2,300 former prisoners get back on their feet, with only a fraction of those costs coming from government funding — as little as $14 per day.

"This victory helps ex-convicts regain their dignity by helping them overcome dependency — dependency on the state to run their lives in prison and dependency on drugs and alcohol to handle life’s problems,” Windham said to Atlas Network. “Groups like Prisoners of Christ help these men recover from addiction and develop the life skills they need to support themselves and serve others who share the same struggles. This victory ensures that states can turn to innovative private programs to succeed where government agencies have failed.”