Baylor study shows benefits of Bible-based trauma healing programs in prisons

Faith-based program leads to reduced PTSD, improved forgiveness

'Healing the Wounded Heart' is a trauma healing prison ministry that seeks to help inmates suffering from trauma improve their well-being.
"Healing the Wounded Heart" is a trauma healing prison ministry that seeks to help inmates suffering from trauma improve their well-being. | American Bible Society

Inmates who participated in a Bible-based trauma healing ministry program showed enhanced emotional well-being and a significant decrease in the negative consequences of trauma, a recent study by the American Bible Society and Baylor University revealed.

Through participating in “Healing the Wounded Heart,” ABS’ Bible-based Correctional Trauma Healing Program, participants experienced a decline in PTSD and vengefulness. Also, they experienced increases in forgiveness, resilience and meaning in life.

ABS and the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry partnered to train chaplains and volunteers at the Riverside Regional Jail in North Prince George, Virginia, to facilitate the program used for a study conducted by Baylor University.

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Of the 349 inmates in the study, 86% had experienced at least one type of traumatic event.

The 210 individuals in the treatment group completed surveys throughout the Correctional Trauma Healing Program to see if they had better outcomes than those in the control group who did not complete the program.

The longitudinal study of the program that consisted of five two-hour sessions revealed significant healing outcomes, which provided evidence on how Bible-based intervention should inform holistic approaches to offender reform.

“What’s amazing and not surprising to me is just how effective this program has been, not only through reduced trauma symptoms and increased a person’s sense of connection to God and to their neighbor and to the Bible but that it continues …,” Christian psychologist Dr. Phil Monroe, who works with the ABS Trauma Healing Program, told The Christian Post. “We have proven effects that last.”

Even after one to three months of completing the program, inmates showed improvement in areas of forgiveness, compassion, resilience and support from family and friends, among other positive effects.

Monroe said the program yields these results due to the ministry’s faith aspect.

“When we are able to bring together a person’s faith that they are interested in talking about, along with best mental health practices, we know from other research as well that they tend to recover much faster,” Monroe said.

Christy Maggio participated in the Trauma Healing Ministry through Good News Jail & Prison Ministry.
Christy Maggio participated in the Trauma Healing Ministry through Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. | American Bible Society

The program is volunteer-led, which allows for more impact at a low cost, Monroe said. The program is derived from the book Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church Can Help and is contextualized for a correctional facility setting.

Robert L. Briggs, ABS president and CEO, said that as America struggles with a mental health crisis, this study “shows the potential benefits of faith-sensitive care for traumatized people.”

“The Bible has been shown to be a vital source for emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental healing,” Briggs said in a statement. “The volunteer-driven Trauma Healing Ministry at American Bible Society is an important resource for the church, helping her respond to the deep wounds of trauma in communities.”

“There aren’t many programs like this that reduce post-traumatic stress, improve positive virtues like forgiveness and compassion, increase confidence in God and the Bible, and reduce negative behaviors at this low of a cost,” Briggs added. “It’s highly efficient, effective, and scalable across the country.”

Byron R. Johnson, Sung Joon Jang and Matt Bradshaw from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion were the report's researchers and co-authors.

“No other known intervention accomplishes so much good for highly traumatized jail inmates in such a short period of time,” Johnson said.

Around 20% of prison inmates have a serious mental illness, and around 30% to 60% struggle with substance use, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

Inmates are also more likely to suffer from infectious diseases and mental health crises, such as withdrawal, psychological distress and the “pains of imprisonment,” according to the study.

Over half of men and women in jails and state prisons experience mental health problems requiring treatment each year, which sometimes results in behavioral problems.

Bible-based trauma healing was developed in the late 1990s by SIL Bible translators and church leaders in East African war zones. ABS began to develop the Trauma Healing Program in 2010 to help victims of trauma process pain and gain hope through Scripture.

Monroe said this could be the solution for better rehabilitation programs in correctional facilities, which would lead to a decreased number of released inmates returning to the correctional system.

“It does seem to be the missing link that could be beneficial for solving the revolving door problem that we have in our correctional setting where people are not being rehabilitated and are not having their traumas addressed, and so are coming back to the revolving door,” Monroe shared.

Thursday marked the first day of Second Chance Month. President Joe Biden made a proclamation about it, as did former President Donald Trump in 2018, 2019 and 2020 during his administration.

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