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Inmate Reform: A Faith-Based Prison

By: Jennifer Ryan
By: Jennifer Ryan

A new type of prison is making its debut in the Big Bend. It's closed-custody by day, and a spiritual classroom by night. It’s a faith and character-based institution, the third of its kind in Florida.

Gov. Jeb Bush says it's both religious and secular, offering a new way of life for thousands of prisoners.

At 30 years old, Joseph Randolph is singing his way to a better life.

Joseph says, "It helps me speak feelings the way I feel inside."

He's been incarcerated for 10 years now, doing time for premeditated murder.

"I've been in a few prisons, some ok, some bad."

But none like the Wakulla Correctional Institution, a prison that's converting into a faith and character-based facility where volunteers provide religious and secular programs seven nights a week.

Gov. Jeb Bush says, "The reason why the prison was selected, there's a commitment from the people. They'll be successful in achieving that one-on-one relationship."

The program aims to become a model for correctional systems nationwide, but some argue it blurs church and state lines.

Kenneth Lampp, a WCI warden, says, "It's not a faith-based program he has to participate in; it can be character based. The line's not blurred at all; there's a distinct line there."

A line that doesn't bother the nearly 3,500 prisoners already devoted to similar programs in Florida.

Pedro Ramirez, a prisoner, shares, "My level of life hit rock bottom. It was time to come in here. If I wouldn't have then, I would have gone somewhere else, and I didn't need that.”

The warden says his institution's budget doesn't change a bit, because the faith and character-based programs are run by volunteers, which means it doesn't cost taxpayers either.

The governor and the warden emphasize that the program caters to all faiths, and to those committed to inner transformation.


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