Bearing False Witness

So I don’t expect a lot from the “faith-based” social-programs crowd that orbits W– call me cynical, but if you’re doing the Lord’s work why come to the Feds for a handout? What I find intolerable from these holier-than-thou folks is out and out misrepresentation of data. In my verson of Christianity, we call that lying. Something about “Thou shalt bear no false witness to thy neighbor.”

In case you don’t know Charles Colson (which would exclude anyone in my family, most of whom idolize the man) he is one of the lucky few Watergate alums who actually went to jail. Where he was born-again, into a lucrative career as speaker, writer, think-tank proselytizer, and general darling of the far right. (While I respect the effort needed for Nixon’s “evil genius” to get some religion, his convert’s zeal could use a little more love.)

So in an effort to get federal funding for his InnerChange “prison fellowship” program, his group is flogging a press release that almost entirely misrepresents the first scientific study of the results. While the inmates in InnerChange actaully did WORSE than non-Bible-reading inmates–more recidivism and more reincarceration at a statistically significant level–InnerChange has the audacity to paint itself as a success. The headline of the press release: “Graduates of Faith-Based Prison Program Less Likely to Return to Prison: Univ. of Pennsylvania Study Shows Inmates Who Graduate From Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative are Less Likely to Return to Incarceration.” The study tells the real truth. You don’t have to get past page four to read “Considering all participants, including those inmates who did and did not complete all phases of the program, 36.2% of IFI participants were arrested compared to 35% of the matched group during the two-year tracking period. Among the total number of IFI participants, 24.3% were incarcerated compared to 20.3% of the comparison group during the two-year post-release period.” The trick is “graduates,” which excludes everyone who doesn’t get a job, or doesn’t stick with “the program” even after release. Talk about “creaming the data.” It’s as if they decided only to count the inmates Jesus really loves.

This excellent article in Slate sets the story straight. But with the WSJ editorial page and the White House Press Office picking up the spin and not the data, there’s a real risk this will become another one of those pseudo-facts that the Christian Right endlessly flogs in its battle to take over the public sphere along with the private.