Prison Ministry Leader: Vick in 'Far Better' Position than Fellow Ex-Offenders

Since serving 18 months in prison, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL commissioner, signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, and could be making his preseason debut Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Though Vick still faces some taunts and jeers for his "key" role in an extensive unlawful interstate dogfighting ring, which led his incarceration, the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship is reminding the public that he is in a far better position than nearly all the other estimated 700,000 prisoners who will be released this year.

"For one thing, Vick possesses a very rare and, thus, very marketable set of skills. At any given moment, only 32 men are good enough to start at quarterback in the NFL. Add Vick's previous success and it's not difficult to share his agent's assessment that his signing was a matter of 'when' and not 'if,'" noted Mark Earley.

"What's more, although many people don't want to forgive Vick for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring, plenty of fans want to see him play again. As Falcons fans know, he was one of the most exciting players in the NFL," he added.

Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of ex-prisoners does not get a second chance and often have trouble finding work after their release from prison. In some communities, 75 percent of ex-offenders remain unemployed a year after their release – and that's in good economic times.

The current recession has made it even more difficult for ex-offenders to find work and is expected to make it even more likely for them to return to prison.

"Although Americans are usually ready to forgive the transgressions of celebrities, they can be downright vindictive when it comes to ordinary offenders," Earley noted.

"If 'vindictive' sounds too strong, ask other ex-offenders in the City of Brotherly Love," he added.

Two years ago, Philadelphia created a program that would give employers a $10,000-a-year tax credit for every ex-offender they hired. Yet, as Earley noted, not a single employer applied for the credit in the first year of the program's existence.

The Prison Fellowship leader said that was in large part because they feared the consequences of being publicly identified as hiring ex-offenders.

But as Earley pointed out, it's in "everyone's interest" to fixing this problem because fixing it promotes public safety.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than half the men released from prison are back behind bars within three years for either violating the terms of their release or committing new crimes.

"Helping Ex-offenders find stable employment can make a big difference," Earley argued. "Ex-offenders obviously need a way to support themselves and their families. Work also helps former inmates become law-abiding citizens. This in turn promotes public safety, saves taxpayers money and reduces the number of victims."

This coming November, representatives of Prison Fellowship, the Georgia Department of Corrections and the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles will meet with community organizations and churches from across the state to find ways to work together to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society.

The meeting will be held at the Out4Life Re-Entry Conference in Savannah, Ga., which will be held Nov. 8-11.

Preceding the 2009 Georgia Conference will be 2009 Arkansas Conference, which will be held Sept. 14-16, at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Ark. The conference is being sponsored by Prison Fellowship, Fellowship Bible Church, the Arkansas Department of Corrections, and the Arkansas Department of Community Correction (DCC).

Prison Fellowship, founded by prominent evangelical leader Chuck Colson, is the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.

The ministry has programs in correctional facilities in all 50 U.S. states, more than 20,000 partner churches in the United States, and some 50,000 volunteers throughout the United States.

Its programs also reach people in 110 countries worldwide. Such programs and ministries include Justice Fellowship, Angel Tree, InnerChange Freedom Initiative, and Prison Fellowship International, among others.

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