The team behind Bible League International explains that more and more U.S. prisons are turning to faith-based programs to help to prevent recidivism and to improve the mental state of prisoners.
A study conducted by Baylor University that was published in the International Journal of Criminology and Sociology found that a faith-based prisoner re-entry program in Minnesota has saved roughly $3M by slashing recidivism rates.
Speaking about the program, Grant Duwe, research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, stated, “The InnerChange program is a boon to taxpayers. It doesn’t rely on public funding. Yet, at the same time, it provides a benefit by reducing recidivism, which results in fewer costs associated with crime.”
The study was a cost-benefit analysis that was based off of a 2012 study that looked at recidivism outcomes among 732 inmates released from Minnesota prisons between August 2003 and December 2009. In that study, researchers looked at a group of 366 prisoners, as well as 366 InnerChange program participants. They analyzed recidivism and program participation, and found that InnerChange slashed re-arrest rates by 26 percent, re-conviction rates by 35 percent, and re-imprisonment for a new felony offense by 40 percent.
In the study, Duwe looked at post-release employment and recidivism in order to analyze just how worthwhile the InnerChange program is. He found that the program produced a benefit of nearly $8,300 per participant. Programs such as this one have been studied intently, as many people believe that they can make a major difference in the lives of prisoners and former prisoners.
There are a number of components to InnerChange, including religious services, Bible study, prayer, substance abuse education, mentoring, seminars, cognitive skill development, support groups, peer mentoring, interactions with volunteers, and individual counseling. There is no religious requirement to get into the program; volunteers come from a variety of religious backgrounds and do not need to have training in theology in order to participate. The program extends for 18 months in prison, and also includes a yearlong reentry phrase once the prisoner is released.
The team at Bible League International explains that the first InnerChange program was launched in 1997 for men in Carol S. Vance Unit near Houston. It was a joint project between Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Since then, the program has expanded to include seven other programs, with three specifically for females. These programs take place in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas.
The study about the perks of the program goes on to state, “In a time of economic hardship, it would seem prudent for secular and sacred groups to consider working together in order to develop evidence-based approaches to confront social problems like offender rehabilitation and prisoner reentry.”
Bible League International Urges Caution with Faith-Based Programs
Though the results of faith-based programs in prisons are overwhelmingly positive, it is important to consider all of the outcomes of these kinds of programs. The team at Bible League explained that a new study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology states that religious instruction in prison might actually encourage crime. The authors looked at 48 hardcore street offenders in the Atlanta area. 45% of these people claimed to be religious; however, many of these criminals actually used their religion as a justification for their behavior. For example, they believe that God has to forgive them for their actions because of their upbringing. These rationalizations can become dangerous.
For instance, one 23-year-old drug dealer explained that his background was the reason for his criminal record, and that God would forgive him because of it. He stated, “If you’re doing some wrong to another bad person, like if I go rob a dope dealer or a molester or something, then it don’t count against me because it’s like I’m giving punishment to them for Jesus.”
Other men with criminal records seem to echo this sentiment. A young man who had committed a robbery explained, “Jesus knows I ain’t have no choice, you know? He knows I got a decent heart. He knows I’m stuck in the hood and just doing what I gotta do to survive.”
The study’s authors believe that “there is reason to believe that these rationalizations as justifications may play a criminogenic role in their decision making.”
While these stories are disturbing, Bible League International explains that it is important to understand that this sample size was a small one. It is possible that results would have differed had a larger population been surveyed. This study is not to say that all religious-based programs in prisons are worthless. It simply suggests that these programs should be handled with care, and that further research is needed to fully understand their impact on prisoners.
It is important to note that many of the inmates and former inmates surveyed struggled to understand the major pillars of their religion. Though they considered themselves Christian, they could not name the Ten Commandments, and lacked knowledge about the fundamentals of their faith. For this reason, it is not fair to judge faith-based programs as either totally positive or totally negative at this point in time, said the team at Bible League International.