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Largest Faith Based Prison Opened by Gov. Bush in Wakulla County
Wakulla News
November 23, 2005

On Wednesday, November 23, 2005, Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary James V. Crosby, Jr., visited the Wakulla Correctional Institution to announce the conversion of that institution into an entirely faith and character-based facility. It is the largest of three such institutions in the state and country. One housing unit at the institution had already been designated as such but now the entire institution and work camp will also be included. Governor Bush made his announcement during a program which included speakers and prayers from various faiths and music provided by the inmate choir.

Wakulla resident, The Reverend Bob Huguenin, a formerly a member of the New York City Department of Correction and now a volunteer Chaplain at Wakulla CI, has had experience with faith and character-based programs in various states.

He explains that: “Faith and character-based programs require more of inmates than regular prison life does. Inmates are required to do their normally assigned duties plus participate in various programs and projects during what would otherwise be their recreation time. Television viewing time and programming is also restricted. Since the total population is in the program and have elected to live a lifestyle different from the usual prison lifestyle and all of the illicit things that go along with it, each inmate becomes accountable to the rest of the population even more so than to the staff for his behavior. Peer pressure becomes more controlling than any rules that staff can make.”

“These programs, according to Fr. Huguenin, reduce the number of incidents and violence, within an institution to almost nil, creating a safer work environment for the staff and reduction in the cost of operating the institution. Tension in the institution is lowered and an atmosphere of respect grows throughout the institution, which also impacts favorably on the staff’s workday.”

“There is a benefit to the all of the people in the State of Florida, in that Faith and character-based initiatives lessen the numbers of those returning to prison. Florida has been tracking the effect of these programs on recidivism and while there needs to be more years pass to sharpen the accuracy of these findings, they already indicate that inmates who have participated in these programs tend to have lower recidivism rates than inmates who do not participate. The inmates, who do return, do so after staying out longer than those who did not participate. Society benefits from these programs because of a reduction in crime and a reduction of the cost of incarceration.”

“Behavioral and self improvement programs and classes are a large part of a faith and character based initiative. The State can not afford to, nor can it legally provide all of the programs that the private sector is able and is so talented at doing. These programs are not limited to those of a religious nature, but include almost anything that is geared to improving life skills. Faith and character-based programs do everything they can to accommodate individuals, groups, churches etc. who volunteer who bring these types of programs and classes into the institution. There are also usually opportunities for individuals to act as ‘outside brothers and sisters,’ mentoring and befriending individual inmates in a controlled session.”

“The word ‘Faith’,” explains Fr, Huguenin, “applies more to the outside community than to the inmate community because it is the faith of the people in the free world that motivates them to provide these programs and classes, which are at the heart of these types of endeavors. Any faith and character-based initiative needs the support of the local community to be able to function. Communities, such as Wakulla County, have historically responded well to these opportunities. Several Wakulla citizens already volunteer at Wakulla Correctional Institution but now there is a need for even more people whose faith will urge them to become part of this restorative process.”

“In all of my more than 30 years as a Correction Officer, prison administrator and volunteer, I have not seen many men change their lives because of what a department of correction has done. It isn’t their job. Their job is the care, custody and control of the inmates. I have seen many men though, change their lives because of people from the free world who got involved with them. Free-world people with their values, life experience and other gifts are much better at rehabilitation than any department equipped with handcuffs, bars and razor wire.”