Suthers Supports Out-Of-State God Pods

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is one of nine state attorney generals who have signed off on a legal appeal supporting Prison Fellowship Ministries’ continued use of so-called jailhouse Christian “god pods.”

The appeal (PDF), dated Sept. 21, follows a June ruling in the Southern District of Iowa that the prison program, which segregates Christian prisoners and provides them with perks that are unavailable to other prisoners, is unconstitutional and allows tax dollars to be used for religious purposes.

The lawsuit, and details of such prison programs, which are increasingly common across the country, including Colorado, is detailed in the New York Times this weekend. As noted in the newspaper’s account, Robert W. Pratt, chief judge of the federal courts in the Southern District of Iowa, ruled that “the state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one of its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation… authority to control the spiritual, emotional and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates.”

Among the arguments subsequently presented in the 27-page Suthers-endorsed amicus brief is that states have not adequately provided rehabilitation programs.

“Confronted with this failure of their correctional systems, the States are in desperate need of prisoner rehabilitation programs that actually reduce recidivism and are cost effective. Faith-based programs-such as the Prison Fellowship program at issue in this appeal-offer an alternative to failed conventional rehabilitation programs.”

In addition to Suthers, the amicus brief was also signed by attorney generals in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas.

Suthers, a former 4th Judicial District Attorney, headed Colorado’s Department of Corrections from 1999 to 2001. That year he was appointed Colorado’s U.S. Attorney, a position he held until January, 2005 when Gov. Bill Owens appointed him to fill out Ken Salazar’s term as Attorney General after Salazar won a U.S. Senate seat. Suthers was elected to a four-year term this November.

As Colorado Confidential’s Erin Rosa has noted, Suthers has also filed amicus briefs supporting other conservative social movements in other states, including supporting the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in Nebraska, and another supporting the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in Virginia.

At the same time, he recently asked for an increase in funding for his office, to the tune of about 10 full-time staffers, which has brought criticism from the Denver Post‘s editorial board, which opined that “Suthers should quit dallying in out-of-state social issues.”

Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent.

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