Prison Fellowship

Healed by the Hand of God

By Sara Blair Matthews | Posted August 14, 2013

Over 50 percent of prisoners currently suffer from substance abuse addiction, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Another 20 percent either have histories of substance abuse, were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time they committed their crimes, or committed their offenses to get money to buy drugs.

Drug use is a predominant problem among the incarcerated population. Once in prison, only 11 percent of inmates with substance abuse and addiction disorders receive treatment. And when they do start receiving treatment it is a long, difficult road to becoming sober and drug-free.

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Attorney General Announces Plan to Reduce Prison Population

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted August 13, 2013

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder stood before the American Bar Association to announce that the Obama administration will be taking a new approach to decreasing the number of prisoners in the U.S. prison system.

The Wall Street Journal reports that this “major policy shift aimed at reversing decades of increasing incarceration,” will cut down on costs for the federal prison system and provide relief from overcrowded prisons.  With a higher percentage of its population behind bars than any other country, the U.S. government spent $80 billion on federal prisons in 2010.

Holder says, “We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smarter on crime. Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.”

Holder listed a few goals in his speech that will drive forward the administration’s new plan:

  • Decrease the number of charges that result in the incarceration of people involved in nonviolent crimes
  • Increase the number of early releases allowed for non-dangerous, elderly inmates
  • Encourage alternatives to prison, such as substance-abuse treatment programs

Prison Fellowship® is also working toward goals that will save the tax-payers money on the country’s prison system. Baylor University published a study in the “International Journal of Criminology” that focused on the InnerChange Freedom Initiative® in Minnesota. This study found that the program saved the state about $3 million through the reduction of people returning to prison. After seeing that prisoner participation in the privately funded program resulted in fewer rearrests, the Minnesota Department of Corrections called faith-based reentry programs “cost effective.”

Language of the Heart

By Jim Liske | Posted August 8, 2013

Jim Liske_200x300We all have a deep need to understand the Gospel in terms that are meaningful to us – that resonate in the deepest part of who we are.

A significant minority of men and women incarcerated in the United States speak Spanish as their primary language. That’s why, earlier this year, Prison Fellowship published Inside Journal® in Spanish for the first time – to share the Gospel with them in the language closest to their hearts. This effort, made possible by friends like you, has already started to bear fruit.

Recently we got this letter (translated below from the original Spanish) from a prisoner in California. Alfredo wrote:

“Today I found a newspaper called Inside Journal in Spanish, and there I found your address. I would really like to enroll in a Bible study because I would like to know God and about how powerful they say His Word is. I really know very little and here where I am there are various religions which, really, instead of helping me, confuse me. That’s why I hope you can bless me by giving me a Bible study and if it’s possible a Bible too because … I want to know which one is the true religion and the only way to know that is to study the Bible and do Bible studies. Only that way will I know who God is and what He wants from me. I thank you in advance for taking the trouble to read this letter and for the great and noble work you are doing. When you are in prison everyone else turns their back on you.”

Thank you for not turning your back on prisoners like Alfredo who are thoughtfully seeking to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

From Heist to Healing

By Alyson R. Quinn | Posted August 7, 2013

Jeffery Hopper has a picture of himself and his daughter, Amanda, sitting on the couch when she was just a little girl.

“She adored me. I was her world,” Jeffery remembers. “I destroyed it by going to prison.”

“We’ll All Go Down Together”

Jeffrey_300x200Jeffery grew up in Port Neches, Texas, where he adopted a criminal lifestyle early on.

“I had no Christian upbringing whatsoever,” he recalls. “Bibles were not allowed in my house.” Instead, his father taught him to have a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, taking whatever he wanted.

“If I wanted a bicycle or a car,” he says, “I had to buy it or steal it. I stole it.”

Despite spending a week in jail at age 14, Jeffery mostly avoided the consequences of his actions, until he graduated to drug trafficking. A few years after his daughter was born, he got in over his head, and his entire family relocated to Las Vegas, Nev., to protect his life.

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Feeling the Heat

By Jim Liske | Posted August 2, 2013

Jim_Liske_2_200x300Some people like to run in the morning. I am not one of those people. On a recent morning, however, as a concession to a major heat wave, I wanted to get out and get my miles done before the heat index rose above 100 degrees. I think I worked up a sweat tying my shoes!

By the end of that run, I was more than ready for a glass of ice water and a day spent in a nice, air-conditioned office.

In the course of the day, I was struck by the realization that the vast majority of the incarcerated in our country, even in the hottest climates, do their time with no air-conditioning, and even with very little shade. I have been in facilities in southern states during the summer months, and the men and women just sit and drip. In some cases, older and ill prisoners have to be moved to protect their health. In most cases, the heat causes more violence as tempers rise with the mercury.

Actions have consequences, and I’m not saying that prisons need to be comfortable places. But that does not mean we should withhold empathy! I invite you to join me in praying diligently for the safety of officers and prisoners living and working in those hot places. More than anything, I hope you will join me in my commitment to serving so that fewer men and women go back to prison, because they find Jesus and tell others about Him! Instead of cooling the air in correctional facilities, let’s see them emptied through the Gospel!

Will you work with us toward that end?

“Recyling” Ex-Prisoners

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 30, 2013

Every year, over 700,000 inmates are released from state and federal prisons across the United States.  The joy of their new freedom, however, is tempered by the realization that substantial roadblocks remain to successful reintegration.  The stigma of being an ex-prisoner makes it hard to find regular employment or housing, and the temptation to return to old friends and old habits is always present.  For many, these hurdles prove to be too hard to overcome, and half of those released find themselves back in prison within three years.

A Virginia-based organization is trying to change those numbers.  Leadership Call seeks to improve the odds of success for returning inmates by helping them determine their own strengths and abilities, and providing the job training and mentoring necessary to start these men and women on the path to a successful career.

“[M]ost of these men have been given a bad rap,” says Leadership Call founder Dr. Toks Idowu. “They’ve already paid their dues by going to prison. They don’t have to keep on paying when they get out.”

The 12-month program has had success in keeping former prisoners from returning to prison.  Dr. Idowu says that the program has had an 85 percent success rate.

“The only thing we don’t recycle is human capital,” says Dr. Idowu.  “Think about it, it’s created in God’s image but we dump it, we trash it and you know just let it go. So in a way I’m in the recycling business.”

“It’s awesome to see when they get it and they run with the vision,” he says.

Prison Fellowship understands the importance of preparing inmates for a life outside the prison walls.  Our InnerChange Freedom Initiative provides inmates with training and instruction before release, and with personal mentors once they leave prison.  Our “bridge church” program allows local congregations to adopt an inmate for a year following their release, and encourages the ex-prisoners to become a part of a worshiping community.  And our new “Welcome Back Pack” program provides former inmates with some of the basic needs we all tend to take for granted.

To learn about all of Prison Fellowship’s efforts to minister to ex-prisoners, please visit our reentry page.

U.S. Prison Population Continues to Decrease

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 27, 2013

The total number of inmates in state and federal prisons in the United States decreased by 1.7 percent in 2012, according to a new report issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  It is the third consecutive annual decrease, following three decades of growth.

During the preceding 30 years, the national prison population grew exponentially, from 307,276 prisoners in 1978 to a high of 1,615,487 prisoners in 2009.  Since then, there has been a gradual reduction in the number of prisoners.  The new BJS report estimates the current population at 1,571,013 inmates.

California accounts for the largest reduction in state prison numbers, with a reduction of 15,035 inmates in 2012.  A good portion of this decrease is due to the  state’s new public safety realignment, which diverts new admissions of “nonserious, nonsex, nonviolent offenders” from state prisons to local jails.

Such numbers are encouraging, but there is still much work to do before prison overcrowding is something of the past.  Mandatory minimums, paired with the closing of facilities due to reduced budgets and increased maintenance costs, continue to result in prisons filled beyond capacity.

Sentencing reforms such as repealing mandatory minimums and alternative punishments for non-violent offenders would help continue the current trend of fewer  prisoners.  To learn more about prison overcrowding, and possible solutions, visit the Justice Fellowship website.

A Marriage Rescued by God

By Sara Blair Matthews | Posted July 24, 2013

Peter Wiser clearly remembers the night God called out to him. Everything went quiet, and the traffic became invisible. At 35 years old, he cried out to God in his grandmother’s backyard saying, “I know You’re real. If You hear me I need Your help. I don’t have anybody else.”

Immediately, Peter heard God’s voice tell him, “It’s time.”

He got up off his crate and responded, “Here I come. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get to You.”

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Shining a Light Through Art

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 23, 2013

Sandow Birk is an artist specializing in 19th Century landscapes, particularly of his native California.  For a recent exhibition, however, Birk has turned his attention from bucolic vineyards and peaceful coastlines to a somewhat unexpected subject – the landscapes of the state’s prisons.

Geographies of Detention, currently taking place at the California Museum of Photography, looks at prison spaces, both from the outside and within, and examines what those spaces say about our attitudes and perceptions of the criminal justice system.

For Birk, the dramatic growth of the prison system in California reveals a stark reality that stands in contradiction to the idealistic depictions of the state common among earlier artists.

“What was really striking to me about these works from the past was that they were all so optimistic about California,” Birk says.  “… It was the whole idea that California was this American paradise.”


If video does not display, click here.

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New Congressional Task Force Honors Chuck Colson

By Craig DeRoche | Posted July 23, 2013

We are pleased to announce that the U.S. House Appropriations Committee honored Chuck Colson with a task force on federal corrections. The Committee has set aside funds in the FY2014 spending bill to establish the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections to make recommendations to increase public safety, improve offender accountability, reduce recidivism, address victims’ services, and control costs.

Justice Fellowship’s press release is available here.

Chuck Colson’s vision of a justice system that promotes both accountability and redemption has left a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of members of Congress, many with whom he forged close friendships, including chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA).

“I am pleased to see the legacy of a great friend continue through the prison reform provisions in this year’s Commerce-Justice-Science spending legislation in what will be known as the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections,” Wolf said. “Chuck made arguably one of the biggest impacts on prison reform following his own incarceration, and his kind heart, strong Christian values and committed work will live on through the Colson Task Force at a time when it’s needed most. Our prisons are overpopulated, dangerous, expensive and violent, but by channeling Chuck’s impactful work and focusing on the differences made through Prison Fellowship and Justice Fellowship, we are bound to see positive change in our prison system.”

Please take a moment now to tell your legislators to support the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections! You can use Justice Fellowship’s model email to make your voice heard.

 

Craig DeRoche is the president of Justice Fellowship.  To learn more about the work of Justice Fellowship to bring about renewal of the criminal justice system in the United States, please visit www.justicefellowship.org.




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