If Bill Robinson gets his way, Wakita, Oklahoma, a small town of around 400 residents located near the Kansas border and featured in the movie Twister, will be home to the first all-Christian prison in the U.S. Robinson, who runs a Dallas-based outfit called Corrections Concepts Inc. (CCI), hopes to have the facility up and running within 16 months. "All of the employees will be Christians," Robinson said. "We have an opinion letter from the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] that says we can do that."
OneNewsNow, a right-wing news service of Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, reported that, while there are prisons with "Christian or faith-based units," no prisons have an all-Christian staff. The AFA news service also pointed out that, "The facility would house only prisoners who want to transfer there. They will not be required to go to church or Bible study, but will be required to sign an agreement to participate in some prison programs. Inmates will be offered classes in literacy, GED requirements, and life skills."
"It’s a faith-based, work ethic, corrections initiative where we take men in their last 12 to 24 to 30 months before their earliest release. They have to volunteer to come, which makes us constitutional," said Robinson, an ex-con and prison minister. He claimed that no public funds would be used to build the $42 million facility."
According to Texas Prison Bid’ness blog (the name is a tribute to Texas writer Molly Ivins who noted in 2003, "What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons"), Robinson’s outfit has been down this road before. In 2007, it proposed building a faith-based prison in Leonard, Texas. At a mid-December city council meeting that year, no action was taken despite a large turnout from people who had collected 400 signatures—from the town of 2,000—opposing the prison construction. Texas Prison Bid’ness also pointed to an article in the Herald News in Fannin County, that "8 Texas counties and communities have already rejected CCI’s offers to place a religious prison in their communities."
The Leonard Graphic reported that Dallas attorney John Sheedy, who represented the city of Leonard, said he thought that other counties rejected the prison due to the work of Satan: "He exists, he doesn’t [want] this project to succeed. He is doing everything he can to defeat this project and he is using good people with good intentions. Satan is much more powerful than anybody in this room, he will twist that person around where they think they are doing the right thing in fighting it."
According to the watchdog Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) Violations website, CCI doesn’t intend to "abide by the PIECP mandatory requirements of paying inmate workers in the program prevailing wages—instead choosing to pay them federal minimum wages—for their labor."
Robinson first presented this avoidance of paying prevailing wages to Texas Governor George W. Bush in 1995. Bush so liked the idea of combining faith-based community initiatives with prison industries, he authored resolutions making it easier for such programs to get state tax dollars. Once in the White House, Bush brought the concept with him, establishing White House Offices of Faith-Based Community Initiative satellite offices in every federal department and agency, including the Department of Justice that oversees the PIECP. This allowed a relaxation of federal statutes governing the manufacture, sales, and distribution of prisoner-made products and services by state prison industries.
On its website, PIECP Violations stated that it is opposed to building the prison "not on religious grounds, rather due to the stated intention of not abiding by the federal PIECP requirements regarding the planned prison industries.… Too many prison industries and their private sector partners are already taking advantage of this important program, by not paying prevailing wages to the inmate workers. This allows for more corporate and prison industry profits at the expense of the workforce. In addition, it provides these violators with an unfair advantage over private sector companies who manufacture the same or similar products on the open market."
PIECP Violations suggested that Wakita residents "should review PIECP Guidelines and ask pointed and specific questions…about the proposed prison industry they plan on opening.… This must be done to protect Oklahoma jobs from disappearing behind the prison fences."
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer focusing on conservative movements.