There is little debate remaining that the United States has a significant problem with the recidivism of former prisoners. Department of Justice statistics show that one-third of released prisoners are rearrested in their first year outside prison walls. Within three years, that number jumps to 50 percent, and then to 75 percent over five years.
But while identifying the problem is easy, it is a more difficult challenge to determine what the primary causes are for these recidivism rates, and even tougher to chart a course that will significantly reduce recidivism in the future.
One recent headline boldly asserts that “America’s Recidivism Problem Will Be Fixed Through Prison Education Programs.” Offering reentry training and life skills courses in prison, the article says, will better prepare prisoners to enter society, and incarceration costs will be reduced.
Others argue that the best way to reduce reentry is to be smarter about who is sent to prison in the first place. By providing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, individuals with substance abuse problems or mental health issues can better receive the help they need, allowing those who do go to prison to get more focused attention on preparing them for life beyond prison walls.
Then there is the element of retaining familial ties during incarceration. Studies have shown that prisoners who maintain close relationships with their families are more likely to avoid the “prison culture” and are less likely to return after release. Keeping prisoners close to their homes during incarceration and maintaining low rates for prison phone calls can help strengthen that connection and better provide a strong support base for the incarcerated when they leave prison.
Still others point to the challenges men and women face after release—the regulations and restrictions that prevent them from successfully reintegrating and that tend to push them back toward old friends and old habits. Only by removing these barriers and providing former prisoners with the blank slate they deserve after paying the price for their crimes can we expect them to grow and thrive.
And for Christians, there is another element—the sinful human nature and the need for spiritual transformation. A meaningful change in behavior can only come through the renewal of heart and mind by the Holy Spirit. Evangelism and spiritual development for the prisoner, as well as spiritual support and encouragement for those who leave prison, are key to ensuring that these men and women stay on the right side of the law after returning to their communities.
Prison Fellowship acknowledges that fixing the recidivism problem is multifaceted, and requires efforts on all these fronts. To that end, Prison Fellowship seeks to deal with each of challenges through our various programs. For men and women preparing to end their incarceration, Prison Fellowship offers reentry support that provides the life-skills training and mentoring needed to give them a chance to succeed. Our advocacy program supports legislation that promotes proportional sentencing and a constructive culture within prisons across the country. Through Angel Tree, families are supported and restored, reconnecting parents behind bars to their children, and encouraging them to be the moms and dads their children deserve. The Second Prison Project works to eliminate the “second prison” former prisoners face after release, allowing these men and women to positively contribute to their communities. And through our in-prison evangelistic endeavors, Prison Fellowship proclaims the Good News of Jesus and his salvation to an audience in need of hope and forgiveness.
To learn more about any of these efforts, and how you can be a part of the solution to the puzzle, visit our action page.