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A Victory for the Religious Liberty of Prisoners

By Elisabeth Boehm | Posted January 22, 2015

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Justice Fellowship weblog

Justice Fellowship applauds today’s unanimous Supreme Court’s decision in Holt v. Hobbs, which upheld the right of a Muslim prisoner to grow a ½ inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. This is a clear endorsement and victory for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which sets a high standard for protecting religious liberty. This legislation, which our late founder, Chuck Colson, worked diligently with Congress to pass, properly prohibits the government from restricting a person’s religious liberty unless there is a compelling government interest and the government is using the least restrictive means in restricting that liberty.

According to Justice Fellowship Policy Director Jesse Wiese, “The history of America’s penology is deeply rooted in providing the opportunity for prisoners to make amends on both a religious and societal basis—to remove the ability to do so diminishes the value of the individual and has negative effects on public safety. In fact, allowing men and women to exercise their religious beliefs while incarcerated has been shown to increase public safety.”

Wiese, who was himself incarcerated during the early 2000s, stated that, “During my incarceration, I was allowed to practice my faith in ways that would directly contribute to my success upon release. Unfortunately, prison seldom teaches men and women how to be good citizens and rarely affords the opportunities to practice the norms that society demands upon release. Having the freedom to exercise, or practice, my Christian faith—and having that activity constitutionally protected—afforded invaluable opportunities to practice good citizenship. “

Justice Fellowship maintains that today’s Supreme Court ruling protects this freedom and sends a strong message of dignity and hope—both of which are desperately needed for the men and women in our nation’s prisons and jails.

Read the Holt v. Hobbs decision here.

Behind the Scenes of an Angel Tree Party

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted January 22, 2015

If you weren’t able to participate in Angel Tree this season, you can still snag a glimpse of the difference the program is making in the lives of children with incarcerated parents. We’re taking you to Palma Ceia Baptist Church in Hayward, California, where kids gathered on Dec. 13 to learn about God’s love and receive Christmas gifts as reminders that their parents in prison care about them. You’ll hear Rev. Tommy Smith Jr. share why he and his church participate in Angel Tree, and some of the families who attended the Angel Tree party will tell you what the program means to them.

If this video does not load, please click here to view it.

Restoring All Things

By Prison Fellowship | Posted January 20, 2015

Prison Fellowship and the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview are partnering with WORLD News Group and Focus on the Family for the Restoring All Things Conference, an inspiring event taking place this April with stops in Grand Rapids, Atlanta, and Dallas.

Restoring_All_Things_600pxSpeakers for the conference will include Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske, Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview Fellow John Stonestreet, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, Heritage Foundation Vice President Jennifer Marshall, and WORLD News Group Vice President Warren Cole Smith. Best-selling authors Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer) and Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) will also participate at the Dallas event on April 15, and award-winning Christian recording artist Andrew Peterson will perform at both the Atlanta and Dallas conferences.

The conference will present a strategy for Christians to serve as “ambassadors of reconciliation,” and will feature personal stories of people from all walks of life who have experienced God’s grace in extraordinary ways, and are seeking to use those experiences to restore the world around them to God’s original intent.

“We hope to articulate better language as we challenge one another to faithfulness and good works,” say Stonestreet and and Smith in their new book, also titled Restoring All Things. “We hope to clarify a more Biblical posture to the evil and brokenness we see all around us. We hope that Christians can become better known for what we are for, not just what we are against.”

Every person who registers will also receive a copy of Smith and Stonestreet’s book, with a foreword by Focus on the Family president Jim Daly.

The conference will be held April 1st in Grand Rapids, MI, April 8th in Atlanta, GA, and April 15th in Dallas, TX. Family packs and VIP tickets are available. As a PFM ministry partner, use the code pfm15 during checkout to receive over 50 percent off single and family tickets. Seating is limited, so everyone interested in attending is encouraged to register now. Visit restoringallthings.org for further details on each event.

What Is Justice?

By Jim Liske | Posted January 20, 2015

   In the Bible, justice is about much more than fairness or catching and punishing “bad guys.” Biblical, or restorative, justice centers focus on restoring everyone affected by wrongdoing—including the offender, the victim, and the community around them. It’s based on shalom, a Hebrew term encompassing peace, wholeness, righteousness, and harmony.

Justice Fellowship is the arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries that promotes the principles of restorative justice in the public square, advocating for laws and policies that reflect the human dignity and value of each person affected by the cycle of crime and incarceration. We envision a criminal justice system in which those who violate the law are held accountable and restored to their full potential, victims are respected and supported, and communities and churches are deeply involved in the work of restoration.

One of the most important places we need to see restorative justice is in the laws of our respective states and the country as a whole. Since 1993, Justice Fellowship has fought for important reforms like the Second Chance Act, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and the Fair Sentencing Act, as well as legislation at the state level. But we’ve never fought alone. Friends like you step up to call your representatives, write letters, ask for meetings, and make informed decisions about criminal justice in your community and your state.

Would you like to be a part of establishing biblical principles of restorative justice in your community? Learn how by clicking here.

Looking Back on 2014

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted January 16, 2015

AT party Baltimore 2014 093 vWith the help of so many volunteers and partners around the country, Prison Fellowship spent 2014 bringing the Gospel to prisoners, helping former prisoners successfully return to their communities, and supporting families affected by crime and incarceration. This past year, thousands of men and women behind bars surrendered their hearts to Christ, and 50 new “bridge churches” began walking alongside newly released men and women. We’ve seen God work through Prison Fellowship and our partners to transform lives and equip Christian leaders to change the culture of prisons and communities.

Here are just a few of the incredible ways God propelled prison ministry, justice advocacy, and Christian leadership forward last year:

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More Than Presents

By Steve Rempe | Posted January 15, 2015

Michelle Rainey was 15 when her mother was arrested on drug charges, leaving her the responsibility of caring for four younger siblings.

Her new responsibilities did not allow for what many would consider a normal life for a teenaged girl.  She dropped out of school to support the family, and spending for things like Christmas gifts did not fit into the tight budget.

“The first couple of years, [my brothers and sister] did not have Christmas presents,” Michelle says.  “It was all I could do to keep us fed.  There wasn’t money for extra stuff.”

That would change, thanks to Angel Tree, a local church, and two loving volunteers.

“The first year we found out about Angel Tree, somebody called for gift wishes,” Michelle recalls.  “Then, a few weeks later there were presents somebody delivered to our house.”

“That was pretty awesome.  The kids finally had a Christmas.”

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New Year, New Habit

By Jim Liske | Posted January 15, 2015

   “This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters … See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:16, 19 (NIV)

I love this time of the year. We take a little time with our families to relax, unwind, and marvel at what God has done in the past 12 months—all the ways He has showed up when we needed Him to, and everything He has taught us along the way.

As a ministry, PFM takes stock of all the challenges God has brought us through since our founding. Like the people of Israel remembering their redemption from the land of Egypt, we recall how God brought Chuck Colson out of prison and gave him a ground-breaking vision … how over and over again God has brought us funding and favor with officials so that the work can continue to grow … how friends like you have partnered with us over decades with your faithful sharing of time, prayer, and resources.

We also look ahead to the challenges and opportunities that 2015 holds. God is doing exciting new things. He is truly making “a way in the wilderness” for prisoners, families, and all those affected by the cycle of crime and incarceration.

As you start a New Year, I’d like to invite you to adopt a new habit: Join the Prison Fellowship Prayer Team, a growing community of prayer warriors committed to paving a smooth road for restoration by interceding for specific needs of the ministry and those we serve. Check it out today.

Taylor Hears From Her Mom in Prison

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted January 8, 2015
Children receive a message from their mom or dad on their Angel Tree gifts.

Children receive a message from their mom or dad on their Angel Tree gifts.

This past December, Angel Tree took gifts and the Gospel to children with a mom or dad in prison all around the county. At Prison Fellowship, we’ve been hearing amazing reports from our Angel Tree volunteers about the lives and families that were touched through the program this Christmas.

A volunteer named Fran writes to us from Tennessee. She’s been involved in Angel Tree for a decade now, and at her church’s Angel Tree banquet just a few weeks ago she met a teenage girl named Taylor* whose mother is incarcerated.

Fran writes, “Before she received the gift, I wanted her to know that it was from her mom and that we helped out as a testimony of what the gift of Christ has meant to our lives.”

Fran asked Taylor for her mother’s name. She told her, and Fran asked to pray for Taylor and her mother.

As Fran prayed, Taylor buried her face in her father’s shoulder, sobbing. This was the first time that Taylor had heard from her mom in 11 years.

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Why We Should Put Probation on Trial

By Elisabeth Boehm | Posted January 6, 2015

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Justice Fellowship website.

“An ineffective probation system can result in further criminal acts and the imprisonment of those same offenders before they complete their terms.”

Justice Fellowship’s latest report, Incentives in State Probation Systems: Relation to Structure and Practices, reveals why it’s a good idea to examine our probation systems.

Read the report here.

The report examines some of the incentives that impact how certain states run their probation systems and highlights two factors that contribute to the effectiveness of those systems.

The first factor that could be working against probation effectiveness is this: probation agencies rarely publish the recidivism rates of former probationers.

If there’s any merit to the staying ‘what gets measured gets done,’ the problem with agencies failing to measure and publish the success rate of their former probationers is immediately obvious. If the goal of probation is to direct men and women away from crime, facilitating their transformation into engaged and contributing citizens, then agencies should be rewarded and commended by legislatures and the public for each individual who completes probation and remains crime-free.

State probation agencies should publish their success rates, enabling citizens to be confident that the probation practices used in their states are working.

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Preparing Dads for Release

By Steve Rempe | Posted January 5, 2015

A program in six eastern Tennessee counties is helping to prepare men behind bars to become better fathers for their children.

Team Dad, a project funded by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and sponsored by the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority, is equipping these men to be the parents their children need when they are released.

The program offers lessons on basic parenting skills, as well as assistance on building resumes and advice for finding legal assistance for those prisoners dealing with custody issues.  Upon release, Team Dad can assist in finding employment.  “We can put in a good word to the employers for the guys so they can get a chance to have an open door and start working again,” says Sam Escobar, an outreach worker for Team Dad.

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