Day 106

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 –

One thing I’ve grown to understand is that our present prison system is highly inadequate when it comes to prisoner reform. Statistics prove my point, as a 2005 study by the federal Bureau of Statistics showed 76% percent of inmates are re-arrested within five years of release. This confirms my own observations from discussion with other inmates. The vast majority I meet seem to be repeat offenders. So what’s the answer?

Admittedly, there are some good programs within our prisons primarily providing a high school education and trade vocation training, as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

However, another of my observations, backed by statistics, is the fact that the recidivism rate will never truly be reversed unless criminals have a change of heart. Yet by-and-large, that’s simply not happening. Reformation of the heart is definitely not something evidently being promoted successfully. Prison life seems to foster the opposite, at least according to my brief time behind bars. There may be many reasons for this I will not go into.

Yet I also understand that only Jesus Christ can truly change a heart – whether it is in prison or outside of prison. Those who have come to know the Lord in prison truly have been transformed of the heart. According to a May 2017 World Magazine article, independent studies have shown the percentage of inmates who have graduated from a Prison Fellowship program and have been re-arrested within a few years was as low as 14%. I know of no Prison Fellowship program in Ashland FCI, but I do know the men who have gone through significant Bible correspondence courses and it does seem to have an impact.

So what’s the solution? I have thought a lot about this and brought this question to the Lord. I am the type of person who likes to find a solution to what seems like impossible problems.

I know the government won’t condone full-fledged evangelism within the individual prison units, as I understand some guards don’t even allow group prayer meetings within the individual units, stating that all religious meeting must take place within the confines of the chapel.

Teen Challenge, however, a former client of Response Unlimited, has developed a model for the type of program that’s needed to turn prisoners into productive members of society. Few who enter Teen Challenge’s substance abuse programs do so as born-again Christians, but the majority who leave have given their lives to Christ with nine in ten having been set free from their addictions permanently. It’s all voluntary. A similar program that’s highly successful for teens is that of Freedom Village USA, and I’m certain there are others. But they’ve got to be residential programs run by churches or Christian organizations, which also provide job training.

These programs would be voluntary and would reduce the length of the prison term by the length of the program, with an understanding that if a person leaves the program, they straight back to prison with no chance for even a halfway house. Halfway houses run by the government, or government contractors can continue as an option for those who don’t want to go through a Christian-based program. But to continue as a faith-based center, it must maintain a recidivism rate below a certain percentage – say half the current rate of government-run programs. You and I know only Christ can change hearts to this degree. This would also cut the cost for the government tremendously. Basically, the churches would step up to the plate and take responsibility for their own communities. These “Christian halfway houses” would provide employees for local businesses, create numerous opportunities for local believers to do volunteer work, disciple new believers, and help churches truly transform their local communities. It can be a win-win situation.

The point is, the system is broken and needs fixing, beginning with the perceived value of a sinful man whose heart can change.

Philip Zodhiates
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