A look at Barna Group's research on American Christian views on criminal justice and reform.
For more than 40 years, Prison Fellowship® staff and volunteers have visited men and women in prison. We have seen how prison conditions affect the culture inside a correctional facility.
Poor conditions can create or exacerbate safety issues among incarcerated people and correctional officers. Good conditions can create or enhance the overall health and safety of a facility.
So when we commissioned Barna Group to poll American Christians' thoughts on justice reform, we included several questions on the topic of prison conditions and caring for prisoners. Here's what we learned.
Research revealed the vast majority (82%) of Americans agree that prison conditions should be safe and humane (33% strongly agree). Americans generally recognize the intrinsic value of each person. This number is higher among practicing Christians (43% strongly agree) and even higher among evangelicals (52% strongly agree).
Prison conditions and culture directly impact the lives of those incarcerated and the people who work inside correctional facilities. Incarceration is both a necessary and effective form of punishment when used appropriately. However, it should never be imposed in such a way that it denies the basic dignity and worth of men and women behind bars.
According to the survey, practicing Christians and Americans generally show similar levels of agreement that sending youth to prison will make them more likely to live a life of crime (29% agree strongly). Mainline Christians express the greatest concern that sending youth to prison will make them more likely to live a life of crime (40% agree strongly). Women are more likely than men to feel this way (32% vs. 26%).
Whenever possible, keeping young people out of prisons increases their odds at developing into good citizens. For the few youths that do need to be put in prison, Prison Fellowship believes they should be in secure facilities with other youth, and those facilities should be as small and as close to home as possible. Some states allow youths to be incarcerated in adult facilities, but this is dangerous. The statistics around youths incarcerated in adult facilities are alarming: 46% of youth are physically assaulted by an adult prisoner; youth in adult prisons are 30 times more likely to commit suicide; and youth released from adult prisons are 77% more likely to commit a violent felony.
CARING FOR PRISONERS
A majority (75%) of people agree, at least somewhat, that caring for prisoners is important, with black Americans and younger adults having stronger opinions about this matter. Practicing Christians are more likely than the general population to strongly agree about this and evangelicals (50%) even more so.
Because of the biblical command to remember the prisoner (Hebrews 13:3) and Jesus' teaching about prisoners (Matt 25:36), Christians have ministered to incarcerated people for centuries. The prominence of prison ministry among Christians today may speak to the influence of prominent evangelical leaders who prioritized the call to visit those in prison, like the late Charles "Chuck" Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, and the late Billy Graham, who founded The Institute for Prison Ministries.
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