February 2014 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A Chesapeake, Va., jail is offering a Bible-based program called “Nurture Block” to inmates. Participants share a cell block for 12 weeks and attend regular Bible studies together.

The program is supported by Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan, who believes it has the potential to reduce recidivism rates – even though no objective studies show that similar programs have worked elsewhere.

 O’Sullivan regularly attends Nurture Block graduations, telling the Virginian-Pilot they are “[A]s good as Sunday service.” The program is voluntary and incidental expenses are covered by private donations, meaning that no public funds are directed toward it.

Americans United’s Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser told the newspaper that ministries like Nurture Block are legal as long as they are not supported by public funds or promote one religion. But he pointed out that problems can arise when officials like O’Sullivan promote or endorse them.

O’Sullivan dismissed such concerns.

“I’m proud to have programs for individuals that need it most,” he said. He also insisted that the jail offers other programs for inmates who belong to different religious traditions.