Sticking with the program is Volokh’s sticking point. He contends that the only legitimate comparison to secular programs, or no program at all, comes when the faith-based program counts everyone who enters it, even if he drops out after an hour. If a program admits 100 inmates and the 50 who graduate are not rearrested, but the 50 who drop out are, the program’s success rate is only 50 percent: Volokh says “we shouldn’t divide the sample based on participation level, since this introduces a new source of self-selection bias.”
I’m commenting further regarding the bias issue on wng.org, but here’s what’s crucial: A faith-based program—OK, let’s cut the euphemisms and say (90 percent of the time) “Christian program”—is more like communion than magic. It’s not pixie dust. Rather, it intensifies the life or death, God or Satan decision we all have to make at some point during our lives.
Prisoners who enter a Christian program often want to because they’ve had failure after failure: They are not more likely to succeed than others, just more desperate. Christian programs lead prisoners to water, but only God can make them drink. Those who turn aside miss their great opportunity, and may even increase their commitment to evil. That’s why it’s important to compare program graduates with the general prison population. By doing so we see that faith-based prisons (and other faith-based programs) do work for some but not all—and that’s a surprise only to those who believe in magic.