Christians across the nation just celebrated April as Second Chance™ Month. I joined a prayer walk in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and listened to men and women who once battled a cycle of addiction, incarceration, and brokenness.
Many work hard to make good on their second chance. Yet, because of their criminal record, obstacles remain to housing, education, employment, and other necessities for a full, productive life.
Visits to an evangelical outreach in prisons are staples in American Christian culture. In a Barna poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship®, 35% of practicing Christians strongly agreed and 52% agreed their values make caring for prisoners important.
In the same poll, 51% of practicing Christians strongly agreed with the basic idea of giving persons who have completed their just punishment a second chance to become productive members of society.
However, many practicing Christians struggled with this notion:
“With only a few exceptions related to their specific crime (for example, not allowing someone convicted of embezzling money to work at a bank), once a person has paid their debt for a crime, they should not face further restrictions on their life.”
Thirty-two percent of practicing Christians strongly agreed and 41% agreed—a majority, but still a significant drop from the support of the general concept of second chances.
As we share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people behind bars and their children, Prison Fellowship seeks to bring biblical values to bear in the halls of Congress and state legislatures. We call for proportional punishment, constructive prison culture, and second chances.
Beyond widespread social stigma, people with records face some 44,000 documented restrictions barring their access to education, jobs, housing, voting, and more—even after they have paid their debt to society. These restrictions often lack a connection to legitimate public safety concerns.
For example, some jurisdictions prevent someone convicted of felonies from becoming licensed barbers. This is especially ironic because some of these same states have in-prison programs for barber training.
The faith that calls us to bring the Gospel’s message of a second chance to men and women behind bars also calls us to ensure a meaningful second chance at life is available to them when they are released from the prison.
We believe removing barriers to second chances is a tangible expression of God’s message of redemption. It’s a matter of justice as well as a pathway to reduced recidivism and increased public safety. If returning citizens successfully rejoin the community, then they are not committing new crimes or going back to prison.
We’re excited the movement to create a culture of second chances is gaining momentum. The president and more than 23 states issued Second Chance Month proclamations. More and more employers are pointing to the benefits of hiring returning citizens, too.
We hope you’ll join Prison Fellowship and 300-plus Second Chance Month partners in continuing to shine a spotlight on the basic, God-given dignity of returning citizens and the need to support—not hinder—their second chance.
Heather Rice-Minus is the vice president of government affairs and church mobilization for Prison Fellowship®, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.