U.S. Prison Seminaries: Structural Charity, Religious Establishment, and Neoliberal Corrections

Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
The Prison Journal
2019, Vol. 99(2) 150 –171
© 2019 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0032885519825490
U.S. Prison Seminaries:
Structural Charity,
Religious Establishment,
and Neoliberal
Michael Hallett1, Bryon Johnson2, Joshua Hays2,
Sung Joon Jang2, and Grant Duwe3
Using archival and site-based research, this article explores operational
practices at six U.S. prison seminary programs regarding concepts of
religious establishment. Further highlighted is a shift toward faith-based
volunteerism as a “structural charity” in correctional budgeting. While
religious programs offer powerfully transformative access to social capital
for many inmates, the recent insertion of Christian “seminaries” into U.S.
prisons arguably fosters religious establishment in four key areas: a lack of
state neutrality toward religion, excessive state entanglement with religious
service providers, inadequate solicitation of alternative programming, and a
de facto measure of coercion in delivery of services.
prison seminaries, Establishment Clause, religion in prison
1University of North Florida, Jacksonville, USA
2Baylor University, Waco, TX, USA
3Minnesota Department of Corrections, St. Paul, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael Hallett, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of North Florida,
Jacksonville, FL 32224, USA.
Email: mhallett@unf.edu
825490TPJXXX10.1177/0032885519825490The Prison JournalHallett et al.
Hallett et al. 151
Introduction: Religious Philanthropy as Structural
Charity in U.S. Corrections
At stake in this new configuration of welfare, is something rather different from
the simple privatization of welfare threatened by long-standing libertarian critics.
What we have witnessed over the last 10 to 15 years is not a return to private
charity as it existed before the New Deal, but rather the implementation of a form
of structural charity—structural in the sense that it is abetted by the state, but
charitable in the sense that it retains the discretionary, unpredictable and ad-hoc
nature of private philanthropy. (Emphasis in original; Cooper, 2015, p. 65)
Faith-based volunteers have become an important staple of correctional
services in the United States, especially among jurisdictions striving to
“shrink government” through expanded privatization and direct use of vol-
unteer service organizations (Hallett, 2006; Hannah-Moffat, 2000;
Willison, Brazzell, & King, 2010; Ward, 2006). As under-resourced pris-
ons increasingly rely upon faith-based volunteerism for providing services
to inmates, research on the constitutionality of faith-based programming
has not kept pace with the full range of emerging programs (Kemp, 2007).
Due to widespread reliance by corrections officials upon faith-based vol-
unteers for delivering cost-effective services to prisoners and ex-offend-
ers, religious volunteers increasingly find themselves to be the sole
resource available for inmates (Erzen, 2017; Hackworth, 2012; Sullivan,
2009). Religious volunteers, long concerned about the deleterious and
neglectful state of prisons, find themselves in legal jeopardy for violating
“establishment” strictures under both the U.S. Constitution and individual
state constitutions (Hallett & Bookstaver, 2017; Sullivan, 2009). Drawing
from precedent established in the Charitable Choice provisions enacted
under President Clinton, legislation for faith-based correctional program-
ming explicitly identifies the fiscal and human capital resources available
from religious volunteer organizations as a proxy resource for effectuating
reductions in correctional spending (Boden, 2006; Dagan & Teles, 2012,
2014; Fields, 2005).
While past research has explored the constitutionality of immersive pro-
grams such as faith-based dormitories, none has yet systematically evalu-
ated the constitutionality of emergent “prison seminary” programs.1 In
what is fast becoming a nationwide movement, prison seminary programs
are now operational or currently being implemented in 17 states. As part of
a larger research agenda evaluating the rehabilitative impact of Christian
seminaries planted in U.S. prisons, this article offers the first systematic
exploration of issues concerning “religious establishment” in multiple U.S.
prison seminaries (Duwe, Hallett, Hays, Jang, & Johnson, 2015; Hallett,

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