Churches in 124 countries will be participating in Prison Fellowship International's (PFI) annual Week of Prayer for Justice, which began April 1 and will end on Easter Sunday.
Ron Nikkel, PFI president, said the prayer event grew out of the realization that many churches around the world are not engaging with prisoners. He told CP that PFI wanted to provide a "way of helping to engage churches at the prayer level."
He explained that often prisoners feel a sense of failure, and when churches get involved and meet with those in prison, it gives them back "a sense of worth, and that they can be forgiven."
"The Week of Prayer for Justice is one way we encourage Christians to support the work of transformation in the lives of prisoners," Nikkel said in a statement. "We pray for them and for those who surround them: prison chaplains and officials, ex-prisoners, their families, crime victims and the overall cause of justice."
One of the greatest difficulties for prisoners is isolation and alienation from community. They also fear what might happen to their families while they are in jail.
When churches become involved with prisoners and their families, through prayer and volunteering in prisons, it helps provide stability and a bridge back into the community when inmates get out, Nikkel told CP.
And this is extremely important because inmates often "gravitate back to old haunts and old friends, they re-cycle through the system," Nikkel explained.
According to a Pew Forum report, half of released inmates return to prison within three years of their release.
"Punishing these offenders may feel like justice, but punishment alone is not just. Unless they are restored and rehabilitated, more than two-thirds will be back in prison within three years," Nikkel said. "This cycle of crime to prison to more crime is a disservice to our communities and to victims of crime."
But when there are places where these prisoners can belong to once they get out, that changes things. The best way to do this, Nikkel explained, is by having someone there to meet them when they are released from prison to "provide a refuge, friendship, and care for them regardless of their record."
"It is a vicious cycle, but it can be changed when Christians around the world understand the need and get involved," Nikkel continued. "The Week of Prayer for Justice is a great way for congregations to become better informed and learn how they can make a difference."
Many Prison Fellowship affiliates plan community events or special outreaches into local prisons during the week, and they encourage churches to conclude the week with a special worship service of celebration and commitment.
Prison Fellowship International's affiliates are active in every region of the world, working to improve the moral, social, physical and spiritual well-being of prisoners, ex-prisoners, their families and victims of crime.
Each day of the Week of Prayer for Justice has a specific focus:
• Sunday – Reconciling Relationships
• Monday – Caring for Victims
• Tuesday – Restoring Communities
• Wednesday – Welcoming Ex-Prisoners
• Thursday – Justice and Correctional Services
• Friday – Supporting Families
• Saturday – Visiting Prisoners
• Sunday – Transforming Lives and Communities