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Faith-based prison rehab works

Prisoners who take part in faith-based rehabilitation programs are much less likely to return to a life of crime, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by Byron Johnson of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, found that graduates of Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship program are less likely than non-graduates to return to crime. The program provides spiritual counseling, job training and mentoring to prisoners nearing the end of their sentences.

Of the 177 ex-prisoners who participated in the study, the 75 who underwent biblical education and counseling were half as likely to be reincarcerated, the study found.

The Prison Fellowship program, titled the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, was first introduced in a Texas state prison in 1997 and now has similar programs in Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota.

According to the study, only 8 percent of the inmates who complete the full program of religious instruction, mentoring and vocational training return to prison within two years of their release. The comparison group without the program had a 20 percent recidivism rate.

“These findings offer much promise to our communities,” said Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, an affiliate of Prison Fellowship. “With over 2 million Americans behind bars and over 630,000 inmates set to be released at the end of their sentences this year, a program that is proven to be effective at helping inmates return to their communities and lead law-abiding, productive lives is welcome news to all of us.”

Colson said, “We’re not asking the secular world to accept the faith, which is a matter of an individual relationship with God. What we’re asking them to do, however, is accept the consequences of that faith, which is something that can no longer be denied.”

Johnson emphasized that mentors were key to these impressive results. Members of local churches give at least one hour a week to mentor inmates, both while still incarcerated and after the return to their community. These relationships help the men think through tough issues they are facing and hold them accountable for staying on the right path. The mentor is there to walk the inmates out the gate, introduce them to their congregation and help them find housing and jobs.

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