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Faith Behind Bars

Conservative Solutions


“Many studies have found that faith-based programs are effective both in prison and after release. For instance, studies have found that religious offenders exhibit more self-control, and are less likely to break the law or commit technical violations, that religious programs serve as a mechanism of self-control that facilitates inmate rehabilitation and reentry, and that religious beliefs are inversely related to a variety of deviant behaviors including alcohol and drug use, and delinquent and criminal activity.” – Pat Nolan, Director of CCJR

According to PEW research, one in 31 adults in the U.S. is under some form of correction supervision – the world’s highest incarceration rate. More than one in every 100 adults in America is behind bars. One in every 53 people in their 20s is behind bars.

Corrections officials face the challenge of crowded facilities and diminishing program funding. Thankfully, public funding isn’t the only option. Corrections departments can improve public safety while dealing with tight budgets by forming partnerships with community and faith-based groups to assist them in helping offenders make a safe and successful return to the community.

Unfortunately, many prison programs do not address the moral aspect of crime and avoid all discussion of faith and morality. In doing so, these programs ignore life-changing tools that have proved very effective at changing criminals’ behavior. If inmates are to live healthy, productive, law-abiding lives when they return to their communities, we must equip them with moral standards to live up to and a worldview that encourages them to do so.

At its root, crime is a moral problem. Offenders make bad moral choices that harm their victims. To break the cycle of crime, we must address the heart of the behavior—morality. When released, offenders must rely on inner restraint and a moral compass to reject their former lifestyle and make better, but harder, choices.

Most inmates are focused on themselves, their needs and desires. Religion teaches them that they are not the center of the universe and that they have obligations to society and to their neighbors. Job training and education alone won’t transform an inmate from a criminal into a law-abiding citizen. Only a changed heart can truly transform a prisoner, and a partnership between the faith-community and our corrections facilities can help accomplish this transformation.

Every prison should offer inmates the option of faith-based programming for life skills, drug treatment, parenting, anger management, and reentry planning. Obviously, prisons must also offer secular alternatives for those who decline to participate in a religiously focused program. But most offenders are never offered a faith-based curriculum alternative. If they participate in Bible studies, it’s often on their own time and does not count toward their required drug and reentry programming. This situation needs to change, and many enlightened corrections administrators are working to provide side-by-side secular and religious program options.

Studies show that participation by prisoners in Bible studies conducted by Prison Fellowship reduced the offenders’ recidivism by 66%. Organizational ministries like Prison Fellowship are devoted to helping prepare men and women to leave prison with a positive outlook, ready to succeed. In several prison facilities, they offer mentorships, life-skills training, marriage and parenting classes, and other programs that teach personal responsibility, the value of education and hard work, and care for people and their property. This equips prisoners with the tools they need to thrive in their communities after release. Some states run “faith dorms” where incarcerated men and women can participate in biblically-based training within a nurturing Christian community.

Refocusing on the importance of rehabilitation and transition back to our neighborhoods will make our communities safer and result in fewer victims. Government alone cannot provide all the services that returning offenders need. Instead, the government can partner with a community of supportive organizations that can hold offenders accountable while being patient, nurturing, sacrificial, holistic and able to sustain a genuine long-term commitment to the transformation of offenders and ex-offenders into law-abiding citizens.

Conservative Solutions

  • Emphasize that the support and accountability provided by mentors often make the difference between a successful return to society and re-offending.
  • Recognize that these at-risk men and women need relationships: with Jesus Christ, with a mentor, and with a church community. As former President Bush often said, government can’t love someone – only people can do that.
  • Prisons should make faith-based programs more accessible to prisoners and expand the range of faith-based programs

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