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There are many aspects that constitute the day to day life of a human being. Some aspects are done as a matter of routine while others are done as a matter of necessity. Religion is one of the aspects that has over the years continued and still is playing an important role in the life of man. Religion by definition refers to the belief in the existence of a supernatural being to whom all worship, adoration and reverence is given. This discussion looks at life in prison and how different or similar it is with the religion that is practiced in the society.
Life in prison is pretty tough especially for those who are getting in there for the first time. It is almost unbearable and most inmates wonder if they can hardly make in the harsh environment that is characteristic of prisons. To enable most prisoners cope with the difficult life behind bars, prison officials have introduced different ideas and concepts which are meant to make prisoners forget for sometime that they are behind bars and feel just as if they were in the society (Arthur, 2005).
One of the aspects that have been introduced in prisons and one that has proven effective is religion. Until recently, the issue of religion among prisoners has always taken center stage with a debate ranging on whether prisoners have a right or not to practice religion. It was argued that since inclination to a certain religion is freedom in itself, prisoners should not be allowed to have this freedom since their freedom is already curtailed by virtue of the fact that they are in prison. After a series of court battles, it was decided that prisoners equally have a right to religion and to worship in whichever manner that they deem fit. The method of worship chosen by the prisoners however should not be one that contravenes the law (Jim, 2010).
Inmates are only allowed to practice the main religious faiths allowed which include Catholicism, Islam, Jewish faith and Protestantism. Inmates are also allows to practice Hinduism, Jehovah witness and other native religions that are recognized in the society. Besides being allowed to practice these religions, sometimes the inmates are treated to inspirational programs from men of the cloth who are allowed to come and talk to them and instill in them faith and hope for the future (Michael, 2010).
There are many reasons as to why prisoners turn to religion. Life in prison can be very challenging especially if the prisoner is going to spend the next couple of years behind bars. Some inmates feel like it is the end of the road for them and others go to an extent of wanting to take their lives (Michael, 2010). Religion therefore gives them direction and gives them a reason to want to hold on and give them hope for a better future. Religion also gives inmates a peace of mind which is not easy to find in the life behind bars. Religion also makes a prisoner feel safe from the otherwise harsh and sometimes violent environment of prison (Thomas, 2003).
Besides the positive impacts that religion is said to have among inmates, it has also been argued that religion has been abused by inmates who use religion to go beyond the limitations of the prison rules and regulations. It is believed that some prisoners who appear to be deeply rooted in religion in fact use religion to be able to get and pass on forbidden items, what is known as contraband such as drugs, weapons and food to other prisoners at a cost. This allegation has also been supported by the fact that most prisoners who have deep ties in religion while behind bars tend to re-offend once released back into the society. This only goes to reaffirm that indeed, at times religion in prison is only a cover up to be able to do so much without being suspected (Beckford & Gillait 2008).
Religion has also been said playing an instrumental role in the process of rehabilitation and behavioral change. Religion has a way of counseling without heavy reprimand and this helps the inmates to see the need to change from their wayward ways and become better members of the society. Religion has also helped most prisoners to change their perception about their own self. When a prisoner is incarcerated, they are made to feel that they are different from other members of the society. However, religion makes inmates understand that there is no difference between them and other people in the society and that if only they could change from their ways then they could go back to the society and become part of the same society that view them as different (Jim, 2010).
When an accused person is arrested, they are later to taken to court and charged with a particular crime or offence. Once they are found guilty of the crime with which they are charged, they are sentenced and most of them end up being locked behind bars for a couple of years where they serve their sentences (Arthur, 2005). Life behind bars is punishment enough. Being denied basic rights like good food and comfortable shelter and clothing is punishment in itself. Religion has therefore been integrated to become part of the prison life to make it bearable. It is important to note that prisoners should be allowed to carry out all religious practices that are laid out by the faith that they profess provided that the religious practices do not go against the rules and regulations of prisons. No religion should be given preference over the other so that every prisoner should have a right to practice any religion provided it falls under the category of the allowed religions in the country (Jim, 2010).
As already mentioned earlier in this discussion, due to the harsh environment that is characteristic of prisons, most prisoners, especially first time offenders find it hard to adjust to the environment. However, statistics indicate that since the introduction of religion in prisons, the environment seems friendlier and bearable and this has helped many prisoners find it easy to adjust to the prison life (Thomas & Nathaniel 2003).
The United States of America is one of the countries that have been on the forefront in ensuring that the rights of prisoners as far as freedom of worship and religion is concerned are respected. Although it is still in the this country that many battles have been fought to ensure that prisoners get their rights, it was a worthwhile battle because today, prisoners incarcerated in United States of America prisons have been guaranteed unlimited freedom of worship and religion. However, according to the recent court ruling regarding the freedom of religion and worship for inmates, this freedom is curtailed to a certain extent when the safety and function of the prison system is at jeopardy (Jim, 2010).
In prison, the kind of religion practiced is somewhat different with the kind of religion practiced in the society. Due to the set up of the prison system, prisoners are forced to practice religion as individuals. However, sometimes, they are allowed to practice as a group as religion in prisons has now been structured anew to allow a more organized kind of setup. The prison officials always organize for prison visits by religious groups from different faiths that come to minister to prisoners. The pastoral care offered by these groups is both for the inmates and also for the correctional officials (Beckford & Gillait 2008).
There are programs that have been put in place to facilitate such visits and to ensure that religion in prison is practiced smoothly. Besides these programs, some correctional facilities in addition offer contemplative programs like yoga, mediation and contemplative prayers. Although these practices are viewed by many to be secular, most of the times they are given sponsorship by religious organization on the basis that these practices are very helpful in enabling a prisoner to reform (Thomas & Nathaniel 2003).
While we can unanimously agree that religion has been very instrumental in making prisons better places and making the environmental more bearable, we must also agree that enough is yet to be done to make the impact of religion in prisons fully felt especially among the prisoners. Perhaps due to the numerous debates on the curtailing of prisoners right to enjoy the freedom of religion, most prisoners have not enjoyed to the full the integration of religion in prisons (Jim, 2010).
Perhaps the first question we can ask ourselves is whether indeed prisons need religion. The answer to this question is a resounding yes based on the above discussion. Then the next question to which we need an answer is what more can be done to make the impacts of religion in prison felt in a greater way? The first thing that needs to be done to ensure that religion impacts prisoners in a great and effective way is to make prisoners feel that they are a part of the society. In many prisons, almost all, prisoners are alienated both physically and psychologically from the rest of the society and they are made to feel that they are different from other people in the society. This means that even when religion is integrated in prisons, prisoners are made to feel that it is a favor that is being done to them. Therefore, if the correction officials, the federal government and the society at large can begin viewing prisoners as ordinary people who have only brushed with the law the wrong way, then it would be easier for religion to have an even greater impact among incarcerated inmates (Beckford & Gillait 2008).
If religion among inmates can be enhanced in a greater way that it is being done presently, then we can reduce cases of inmates who re-offend after being released. This would also reduce by a great margin the rate of crime in the society as it is believed that most heinous crimes that are committed are by hardcore criminals who have already done one or more jail terms (Arthur, 2005). I therefore believe that the role played by religion is great and one that should not be underestimated.
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