Inmates at the Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Ga., have the option to enroll in a faith and character program, where they live in a separate dormitory and hold regular meetings with volunteer clergy and civic leaders to discuss issues of morality and spirituality.
"If we can influence their behavior in prison such that it changes their thought process from the negative, from the criminal, to a positive way to become a productive citizen ... we have to use every tool in the belt," said prison warden Tony Turpin.
At least 10 states have faith-based (search) prison programs, and the number is expected to more than double as Corrections Corporation of America — the nation's largest private prison operator — introduces similar programs to its facilities. But church-state separationists are suing one program in Iowa for allegedly pressuring inmates to convert to Christianity.
"What you're saying to these inmates is, 'We'll help you, we'll give you a leg up, but if you embrace a certain religious perspective first,' and that isn't how it ought to be," said Rob Boston of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Faith and Character Program in Georgia has avoided much of this criticism by offering the program to any inmate on good behavior and expanding discussions to include multiple religions.
Inmates say the advantage of bringing faith into the program is that long after they leave the barbed wire fences and pay their debts to society, they must still answer to a higher authority.
"Character and faith go hand in hand, I don't care what you say," said inmate Marshall Rice. "Before I got saved, I didn't have no character."
Nationwide, two out of three inmates released from prison will return for repeat offenses. Prison officials hope religion will help inmates beat the odds.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jonathan Serrie.