Founded in 1845, and the oldest university in Texas, Baylor is a private, Christian university with most of its students located at its Waco campus. Ranked second in the U.S. for marketing programs, Baylor is using successful marketing techniques to reach a body of students not usually found in seminary programs, and almost never found on college campuses.
With the help of $1.3 million in funding, Baylor will study the effect of prison-based seminaries and successful reentry. The study also seeks to discover if having inmates enrolled in a prison seminary will have a positive effect on providing a more stable and orderly environment throughout the whole prison.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the “seminary behind bars” program is that when the inmates successfully complete the program, and are released, they will be allowed to go into other prisons as missionaries to minister to inmates. Many states have strict rules that bar people with criminal histories from volunteering in correctional facilities. Other states require a strict vetting process and a set number of years since release before a former inmate can volunteer. The Texas Department of Corrections is sending a powerful message by allowing inmates to participate in a seminary program, and by conveying faith that the seminary- behind- bars graduates have been rehabilitated and can serve as positive role models to current inmates.
There is concern in some correctional institutions that the religious fervor among many inmates is not genuine. It is common knowledge that some inmates use religious services and programs just to get out of their cells, or to see friends. Baylor’s five year study of seminary programs in Texas will show if such programs give graduates the tools for successful reentry and the ability, as role models, to help others to turn their lives around. Although the verdict is not yet in, there is great hope that the study will yield positive results and that the field missionaries will serve as inspirations to others. Perhaps other religions will consider offering similar programs in prisons.