"Three things will help keep an inmate from coming back to prison: The first is some type of spiritual awakening while in prison; the second is support by their family during and after incarceration; and the third is a skill to find a job on the outside after release." --James Rowland, past Director, California Department of Corrections
The United States has more prisoners than any other country.
Over 2 million are in prison
2.7 million children have incarcerated parents
650,000 inmates are released from prison every year
More women are being incarcerated than ever before, often for non-violent crimes. When released, they lack skills to change the lifestyle that landed them in prison in the first place. This 2-part series from PE News looks at the unique needs of female offenders, what several AG ministries are doing to help, and how you and your congregation can get involved. Read "More Women Behind Bars" and "Help on the Outside."
Jesus said, "I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Matthew 25:36 New International version (NIV)
U.S. Missions serves prisoners and their families through the Chaplaincy Ministries department. Correctional facility chaplains and trained volunteers have introduced many men, women, and juveniles to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in the challenging surroundings of armed guards, gigantic fences topped with razor wire, and often unsupportive peers. A number of chaplains are available to speak to your church or other group, or to help train interested volunteers. Get your church involved by requesting the Guide to Prison Ministries and other resources available through the Correctional Chaplaincy department.
With the need being so great, collaboration with other ministry programs can help churches accomplish more than they could do alone. Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) serves and equips the Church to fulfill the Great Commission among prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Programs include the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an 18-month re-entry program located in Texas. Learn more about PFM at www.prisonfellowship.org, and check out a re-entry success story from their newsletter, here. PFM also works to influence federal, state, and local policy toward restorative justice, equipping prisoners for successful lives following incarceration, and reducing recidivism.
Join the Prison Fellowship prayer group.
Children with an incarcerated parent suffer at Christmas, not just from financial circumstances but from feeling abandoned. Through Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program, parents in prison sign their children up to receive a gift. Sponsoring churches then take names of children in their area, purchase the gifts, and distribute them at a Christmas party for the children. Accompanied by a personal card signed by the parent, these gifts help bring restoration to a broken relationship. Read more about the issues facing children affected by incarceration, and why programs such as Angel Tree make a difference, here.
Register today to become an Angel Tree church coordinator so that your church can sponsor gifts to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. Priority for your church is given to children from your geographical area, so don't stop with the gift program! After the initial contact at Christmas, Angel Tree connects churches with children and families for mentoring and follow-up, including the opportunity to sponsor children for a week at partnering Christian camps. Visit the PF/Angel Tree website for year-round ideas!
“It Starts with a Gift” Video
New 2016 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Center - "A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families, and Communities" - What the numbers say and recommendations of what to do about them.
Correctional statistics by state from the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections
Q & A by topic, National Criminal Justice Reference Service
The Council of State Governments Justice Center - Checklists, fact sheets, recent articles about current events and developments.
FAQ's and answers: Downloadable from Prison Fellowship
Children of Incarcerated Parents: Information from the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Department of Health & Human Services
National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated: Fact sheets, program directory, library
U.S. Missions Chaplaincy: Guide to Prison Ministries
Find out how to become a "Bridge Church" to welcome prisoners with Christian fellowship, help finding a job, and other important services after release.
Resources for prison ministry from ARM Prison Outreach: Portable baptistries, communion supplies, etc.
KAIROS: Connecting caring Christian volunteers with prisoners for a weekend of discipleship or with families of prisoners for a weekend of support and encouragement.
Has your church considered offering transitional housing for re-entry? You'll want to read this article first.
Literacy Programs for Prisoners: Many prisoners are functionally illiterate, making it difficult to study the Bible or get a GED or a job and avoid returning to the lifestyle that led them to prison. Visit the Prison Fellowship website to learn about being trained as a literacy volunteer--the perfect opportunity for retired teachers or people who love reading to make a real difference!
Restorative Justice Ministries Network: Informing and equipping churches, businesses, and communities for prison ministry and re-entry support.
National Fatherhood Initiative: Equipping fathers for quality involvement with their children, beginning while they are incarcerated and continuing into re-entry through programs such as "InsideOut Dad"
Coalition of Prison Evangelists (COPE): Fellowship and training for churches, organizations, and individuals involved in prison ministry.
Beauty for Ashes: Inmate and re-entry ministry; volunteer opportunities and training
Daughters of Destiny: Volunteers discipling incarcerated women and preparing them for re-entry, with continued mentorship upon release
Prisoner Reentry Toolkit for Faith-Based and Community Organizations from the U.S. Department of Labor
Crowded prisons and budget cuts are causing many states to explore creative ways to release non-violent offenders sooner and successfully re-integrate them into society. This creates opportunities for churches and other ministries to help these former prisoners get jobs, deal with addiction problems, and successfully navigate possible pitfalls leading to recidivism. Check out our resources for helping those with alcohol and drug problems, the poor, and teens aging out of foster care. Does your church or group have ministry in place for helping these at-risk populations avoid becoming offenders or repeat offenders? Send us your testimonies to share.
Manuel Cordero, senior director, Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries
Joe Fauss, Chaplaincy Ministries, Calvary Commission prison ministries
Jerrod Ramirez, Assemblies of God correctional chaplain
The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated - Fact sheets, statistics, links to resources and support organizations to assist those wanting to help.
From the National Institute of Corrections in collaboration with the Urban Institute - "Toolkit for Developing Family-Focused Jail Programs" recognizes the importance of family contact in preventing recidivism as well as for future well-being of children of incarcerated parents, and offers suggestions for community collaboration.
"How Parental Incarceration Affects A Child's Education" - Thoughtful research piece from The Atlantic for teachers or for those wanting to volunteer in local schools, about the effect of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) experienced by children of the incarcerated on their performance and socialization at school. Some school districts have recognized the difficulties some children face in class and is addressing them: See recent article, "In San Francisco, Schools Focusing on Students with Incarcerated Parents".
The Women's Storybook Project creates recordings of incarcerated moms reading to their children, and then delivers the recording and the book to the child. You can get involved (Texas) or get inspired to create something similar in your area.
Camp David of the Ozarks: Summer camping experience and mentoring
The popular children's TV show Sesame Street offers a toolkit, "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration" with resources for parents, educators, and caregivers working with children of incarcerated parents.
Juveniles account for approximately 2.3 million arrests in a given year. Although the last decade has seen landmark court cases limiting the application of life sentences for persons under age 18, there is much to be done in terms of truly rehabilitating young offenders to to take their place as productive contributors to society, especially as budget cuts in many states shift the primary responsibility for juvenile offenders to local and county facilities. (See the Prison Fellowship blog for more on this topic.) From prevention, to inmate education, to Bible study, to follow-up, there are opportunities for individuals and churches to get involved.
The Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings works to recruit and support quality teachers and engage students with academic excellence even in the juvenile detention setting, to help ensure they reach their full potential and access to opportunities upon release.
Straight Ahead Ministries - Equipping churches and individuals to disciple juvenile offenders both while they are "in lock-up" and during re-entry. Books and other resource materials, speakers, and training events address challenges such as transitional living, gang reconciliation, and employment or education.
"The best way to reduce incarceration rates is to keep young people from engaging in crime in the first place. Parents, churches, and communities can work to do this by engaging with youth, encouraging them to pursue their passions, and providing them with opportunities to do so. Most importantly, adults can remind these youth that they have infinite value in the eyes of God, and that he has created them with skills and talents to serve others."
- Prison Fellowship, "Finding Your Identity"
Do you believe in second chances? Do you believe that once a debt is paid, it should be paid in full without stigma? Do you have a friend or relative struggling to find a job due to a prior record? You may want to get involved with The Second Prison Project, advocating on behalf of those who have completed their sentences and want to change their lives. Or visit Prison Fellowship's Re-entry Support page for more ways to help transition an inmate back into society through work opportunities and mentorship.
A concise summary of how successful reintegration benefits society at large, and some good suggestions for how to do it: "How to Help Former inmates Thrive," from the NY Times opinion page.
Some research indicates that arts and activities programming in prisons not only builds a more positive culture inside the prison walls but also lowers recidivism by helping prisoners build confidence and skills for success upon release. The Prison Arts Coalition serves as a networking community for arts in prison. Visit their site to find volunteer and job opportunities in arts programming, events highlighting inmate art, and a list of prison arts programs by region/state. For an example of prison arts programming, read "Inside A Maximum Security Prison's Production of 'The Wiz,'" from the HuffPost blog.
The Second Chance Act, passed in 2008, created grant funding opportunities for agencies assisting re-entering prisoners. Visit their website for updates on 2015 reauthorization of the funding as well as a list and map of programs.
Daughters of Destiny - Equipping and empowering volunteers to mentor and disciple female inmates, both while they are incarcerated and upon release.
Animal lovers can help save shelter dogs from being euthanized while also helping inmates with re-entry skills. Check out "New Leash on Life," which matches shelter dogs with selected inmates who help socialize the dogs. The animals get better chances at being adopted; the inmates improve their own sense of worth and their access to further training upon release as a veterinary assistant or other animal-related job. Volunteer in the Philadelphia area, or contact them for ideas on starting a similar program in your area. Another organization, Puppies Behind Bars, trains inmates to raise puppies in preparation for the dog's eventual career in K9 law enforcement or as an assistance dog for a disabled veteran. Check your state's Department of Corrections website to see if there is a program near you. (Check out the Kansas program here.)
From a successful career in finance, former Wells Fargo CEO Danny Ludeman has moved to investing in people. providing training and mentorship to re-entering men and women through the Concordance Initiative.
Finding stable employment is a huge challenge of re-entry. For inspirational testimonies from a successful job training program, visit the Georgia Works! website. Another program, Roots of Renewal, renovates blighted properties in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, providing low-cost housing as well as employment and job training for former inmates.
Many prisoners are incarcerated due to drug offenses or crimes committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Recovery Prison Ministries takes the Celebrate Recovery curriculum inside correctional facilities to give inmates a better chance at success upon release.
Is prison or jail really the best place for young mothers and pregnant women suffering from addictions and substance abuse disorders? Read "Massachusetts Mobilizes to Treat Addicted Moms" to learn about an alternative that appears to be succeeding.
What happens to the innocent spouse or family members of violent offenders? As the system tries to bring offenders to justice and victims to healing or their families to closure, who sees to the needs of those closest to the offender? "My Husband Raped Two Women, and I Had to Answer for His Crimes" is one woman's story of her journey and how she managed to move on.
What happens when prisoners become elderly and their age-related health problems get increasingly difficult--and expensive--to deal with? See this PE News discussion on this topic, "When Aging Out Is No Option."
Encouraging data seem to indicate that when women are allowed to parent their infants in prison nurseries instead of immediately losing them to state care, both the prisoners and the babies benefit! Read "Born Behind Bars" to find out more and see how you can help facilitate this important maternal bonding.
This thoughtful piece from the National Review, "The Truth about Mass Incarceration," shared by the Prison Fellowship blog, questions the extreme positions of blaming society vs. throw-away-the-key, pointing instead to truly constructive education and re-entry programs that don't excuse the offense, but punish the offender and work toward retribution and restoration.
How strong is the restorative power of forgiveness? Read this Prison Fellowship blog post, "A Mother's Forgiveness," to find out what happens when a mother allows Jesus to open her heart to meeting the murderer of her only son.
"A Matter of Black Lives" - This compelling article details a city mayor's quest to find out why so many young black men kill, and are killed. Follow him on his visits to a nearby prison where he builds relationships with young black inmates in an effort to find out what went wrong, and how he should go about working to fix it.
How many people are sitting in jail just because they can't afford bail? This article explores the effects of high bail amounts including overcrowding, loss of employment, indebtedness to bonding companies, and family separation; and suggests possible alternative ways to ensure the defendant shows up in court.
Check the Prison Fellowship blog regularly for updates about legislation and current issues pertaining to prisoners, including this insightful article,
"Why Ex-Prisoners Can't Find Work."
This New York Times editorial piece makes a compelling argument that restoring the right to vote should be an important component of reentry, building dignity as former prisoners try to productively restructure their lives.
Evidence is starting to mount up that restorative justice works--but WHY does it work? This insightful blog post explains the Biblical principles behind restorative justice. God's word holds the keys to restoration and recovery.
PE News: House of Hope, "Reshaping Lives of Ex-Offenders" -- how one woman's transformation now motivates her to help others.