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Moral and Religious Influences - Religion And Criminal Justice In The Twenty-first Century

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Morality and religious order continued to greatly influence public perception of crime and punishment in the early twenty-first century. The media, through newspapers, 24-hour cable news networks, investigative reports on major networks, Internet Web sites, movies, and political radio programs, filled the public with images of violent or socially deviant behavior. Unusual local crimes get national attention and despite a decline in crime rates, public fear continues to grow. This fear directly influences criminal justice. The results are zero tolerance policies, broader police power, and tougher laws and sentencing.

Religious organizations have often led the charge for crime prevention. The result has been less tolerance of criminal behavior and demanding people take more responsibility for their actions. As new patterns in crime arise, such moralistic reactions influence the response of the criminal justice system. Critics, however, claim these solutions are too simple and do not address the causes of crime.

In the early 2000s the state of Florida under Governor Jeb Bush, brother of U.S. president George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–), established a series of state faith-based prisons. These were created by converting existing prisons. Inmates were then allowed to choose one of these prisons over a standard prison.

The faith-based prisons offered regular prayer sessions, religious studies, choir practice, and religious counseling. They were open to inmates of all faiths including Christian, Muslim, and Jew. To qualify for participation, inmates must be within three years of their release date and have a clean prison record. The religious goal was character development, the prison goal was to reduce crime by keeping inmates from returning to a life of crime after their release. Of the 73,000 inmates in Florida in 2002, about 44 percent were repeat offenders with the state spending $1.3 billion on prisons.

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