Kenneth Dewitt, a fulltime chaplain with the Department of Correction, started this kind of instruction in Arkansas prisons. He’s still at McPherson. He says the PAL curriculum came out of the Character First! Program developed by an organization called the Character Training Institute in Oklahoma City. CTI says that its character-building programs are used by corporations, police departments, schools, correctional institutions and other groups around the country. (The web site of Harding University at Searcy declares that Harding “was recognized as the first Campus of Character in October, 2002, by the International Association of Character Cities, an association of the Character Training Institute in Oklahoma City, Okla. This unique designation followed the passage of a resolution by the university’s board of trustees, declaring that Harding would do everything possible to promote character on campus and beyond.”)
Although participants in the PAL program at McPherson clearly consider it to be religious in nature, CTI materials generally avoid mention of God or Christianity. Instead, they talk about things like “character qualities,” including “attentiveness, obedience, truthfulness, gratefulness, generosity, orderliness, forgiveness, sincerity, virtue … ” (The last one sounds like it would encompass many of the others.)
This may be because in public schools and other public institutions where Character First! Programs are used, emphasis on religion could lead to legal challenges concerning the mingling of church and state. But journalists investigating the origin of the Character First! Programs have traced them back to a somewhat controversial, somewhat mysterious evangelical minister named Bill Gothard. Considered by some to be a cult-like figure, Gothard heads the Oak Brook, Ill.-based Institute in Basic Life Principles. In the leftist magazine In These Times, Silja J. A. Talvi wrote in January that “the CTI is for all intents and purposes a ‘secular’ front group for Gothard’s IBLP.”
The department documents provided to The Associated Press include a signed notice from John Mark Wheeler, the administrator of religious services for the department, saying Dewitt "called and confessed to having an inappropriate physical relationship with a subordinate... He was offered the opportunity to resign and he resigned effective immediately."
Two letters from the subordinate were also included, noting that she was a former inmate and that the "moral failure" did not occur while she was incarcerated.
Dewitt resigned nearly three months before an investigation was opened into the prisoners' allegations. There were no documents directly related to that investigation in his personnel file.
[ADC Spokesperson Cathy] Frye said last week that department officials referred the prisoners' allegations of sexual relationships to the Arkansas State Police soon after the prisoners came forward. The State Police gave the investigation file to the prosecuting attorney's office in April, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed last week.
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