Within the past twelve months, three major reports have underscored just how serious our nations crime and prison crisis has become. The FBI reported in December that violent crime in the United States jumped nearly 4 percent in 2005. In November, the Department of Justice gave us the cheery news that one out of every thirty-two adult Americans is either behind bars or on probation or parole. And last June, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in Americas Prisons reported that the violence inside Americas prisons is spilling out into our neighborhoods when prisoners are released.
Just last week, yet another reportthis one by the Pew Charitable Truststells us that by 2011 our nations prison population will grow 12 percent and cost American taxpayers an additional $27.5 billion. By 2011, 1.7 million men and women will live in American prisons. Thats more than the population of Atlanta, Baltimore, and Denver combined.
Whats fueling the skyrocketing prison population? One cause is recidivismex-prisoners returning to a life of crime.
More than 600,000 inmates in the United States are released from prison each year. Within three years, two-thirds of them will be rearrested for new crimes involving new victims.
As the Commission on Safety and Abuse in Americas Prisons found, the key to reducing recidivismand, thus, protecting the public from more crimeis comprehensive rehabilitative programming for prisoners.
Prison Fellowship has known this for years, which is why it launched the InnerChange Freedom Initiative® program (or IFI) in Texas back in 1997. IFIs faith-based program provides prisoners a highly structured, intensive regimen of character education, community service, pre-release training, and rehabilitation programs. It links prisoners with trained mentors who will walk alongside them before and after release.
And IFI works. An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania shows that graduates of IFI programs in Texas were far less likely to return to prison within two years than inmates who did not graduate from IFI.
No wonder that IFI has expanded to six states. With all the bad news about crime and prisons lately, dont you think its great to hear that something is finally working to rehabilitate prisoners?
Well, not if youre Barry Lynn or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. You probably know by now that they sued IFI, Prison Fellowship, and the State of Iowa over the IFI program at the Newton Correctional Facility. Tragically, a federal judge sided with Americans United and ruled that IFI violated the establishment clause of the Constitution.
But on February 13, three judgesincluding former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnorheard IFIs appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. We expect to hear their decision within the next few months. You can actually listen to the oral arguments by visiting our website, BreakPoint.org. In fact, I urge you to tune inand to pray for a favorable ruling for IFI.
At a time when all the signs are pointing to more crime and rising prison populations, we cannot afford to take effective faith-based programs and lock them out of Americas prisons.
From BreakPoint®, March 5, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. BreakPoint® and Prison Fellowship Ministries® are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries