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PDN Advocates Mentioned as Tax-Saving Prisoner Re-Entry Programs

Research shows faith-based re-entry programs save money for tax-payers and reduces recidivism for prisoners.

A study of Minnesota’s faith-based Inner Change Freedom Initiative program, which relies heavily on volunteers, saved taxpayers over $3 million by reducing recidivism, according to a Baylor University study published in the International Journal of Criminology and Sociology. The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) labels the program cost effective, stating that those who participate in the program reduce their chances of rearrest by 26-40% with cost privately funded and heavily relying on volunteers.

Grant Duwe and Byron R. Johnson findings not only agree with Minnesota’s DOC, but begin their paper by saying, “It is not a new idea that the life of even the worst offender can be transformed. Religious adherents and faith-based practitioners have long proclaimed this message. Some of the earliest prisons in America were also based on the belief that crime was a moral and spiritual problem, and that prisoners needed religion to reform. Consequently, intensive religious instruction and training was integral in some of America’s earliest correctional facilities (Morris and Rothman, 1998). It should not come as a surprise, then, that a significant percentage of today’s prison vernacular as well as philosophy draw from religious concepts or perspectives (e.g., corrections, penitentiary, solitary confinement, reform, and restorative justice).”

Even some Taoists, such as Derek Lin, who sends Taoism books to prisoners in American prison systems, free of charge, believe that once one reads the Tao, it brings about change, including to those who break the law.

“Over the years, I have seen again and again how the Tao changes lives. People who study it with an open mind and put its lessons into actual practice invariably experience profound life transformations.”

Those who teach the Dharma of Buddhism also state they see a change in individuals behind bars. Started in 1996 and active mainly in the United States and Australia, with branches in Mexico, Spain, Italy, and Mongolia, the Liberation Prison Project is associated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.

According to the Liberation Prison Project, “The vast majority of inmates who write us are male, poor, estranged from their families and have histories of drug and alcohol abuse; their lives are dominated by violence and suffering and many have been involved in street and prison gangs. Most are desperately seeking means to transform their minds.” The Prison Mindfulness Institute started in 1989 by a Buddhist prisoner, who started the Prison Dharma Network (PDN), and includes advisors who are Buddhists and people who teach meditation. The Prison Mindfulness Institute sends books to prisoners also, as well as other programs inside institutions, which prisoners write back, stating their appreciation.

“During my time in prison, like most prisoners, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my life. Like anyone else, in prison or out, I’ve had high and low points, pleasure and pain. But one thing that’s remained constant since my teens is loneliness.” ~Prisoner Tommy M.

The Foundation for Human Kindness, in North Carolina, started by Bo Lozaff and Ram Dass, who felt moved by the religious texts he studied in prison, run their Prison-Ashram Program on the belief that religious texts change those who committed crimes and began serving time in prison. They also rely heavily on volunteers, just as the Minnesota program does.

In 1973, Bo Lozoff and Ram Dass came up with the idea to help prisoners to use their prisons as ashrams if they were tired enough of seeing themselves as convicts just biding their time until they were released. Ashram is a Sanskrit word meaning “House of God.” In the East, an ashram is a place where people live for some period of time in order to strengthen their spiritual practice and self-discipline. Many ashrams are very strict. Residents, or ashramites, abide by an exhaustive schedule and live very simply, without many comforts or luxuries.

Faith-based programs do not necessarily force Christianity on the prisons. In fact, in a statement by Douglas Goetsch, in memory of Lozoff, says, “was a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Sufi, pilgrim, husband, father, carpenter.” In fact, Freethought Books Project, started by freethinkers seeing a need for secular materials in various organizations, including prisons, joined in on this project and sends free secular and freethought books to prisoners giving prisoners an opportunity to explore many different worldviews, including humanism, with appreciative “testimonial letters” from various prisoners. All of the Freethought Book Project’s books are donated to give to hospitals, low-income individuals, charitable organizations, prisons, and prison inmates free of charge. While most groups allegedly do not seek government funding, those in low-income areas often eagerly accept funding as a social service. The study concluded that both Secular and religious groups should consider working together to develop more evidence that these programs do work.

“In a time of economic hardship, it would seem prudent for secular and sacred groups to consider working together in order to develop evidence-based approaches to confront social problems like offender rehabilitation and prisoner re-entry,” the study concluded.

Duwe called the Inner Change program in Minnesota a boon to taxpayers, because it does not rely on public funding and neither do the programs mentioned above. Johnson stated that research, such as the one in Minnesota, is needed by government and secular agencies to show taxpayers whether or not these programs work.

“The InnerChange program is a boon to taxpayers. It doesn’t rely on public funding. Yet, at the same time, it provides a benefit by reducing recidivism, which results in fewer costs associated with crime,” said lead author Grant Duwe, Ph.D., research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and a non-resident scholar of Baylor’s ISR.

In the debate over whether and how faith-based groups can be effective in working with government and secular entities to confront social ills, “this kind of research will be called for by policymakers,” Johnson said. “It just makes sense. Taxpayers want to know whether programs work – especially when religion is involved.”

Researchers compared the cost benefits in 2012, examining 732 offenders released between 2003 and 2009 from Minnesota’s prison system. They examined two groups, both composing of 366 prisoners each, concerning the recidivism of both groups. One group took the Inner Change program and the other did not. The group that too the Inner Change Program had a lower rate of re-incarceration than the group that did not.

The results showed that InnerChange reduced re-arrest by 26 percent, re-conviction by 35 percent and re-imprisonment for a new felony offense by 40 percent.

Duwe and Johnson then looked at the employment of released prisoners, cost victims, criminal justice system costs, and the financial impact of tax contributions, and found that the program gave a cost benefit of $8300 per participant.

InnerChange includes Christian religious services, Bible study and prayer, substance abuse education, cognitive skill development, mentoring and seminars, as well as aftercare involving support groups, peer mentoring, interaction with volunteers and individual counseling. Those in the program need not be Christians, and volunteers, who are screened, represent a variety of denominations but need not be theologically trained. The program lasts 18 months in prison, followed by a year-long reentry phase.

While Lozoff’s created his program in 1973, with various other religious faith-based groups afterwards, Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the Carol S. Vance unit near Houston Texas created the Inner Change program for men in 1997. The United States currently runs eight Inner Change programs, including three for women, in Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Minnesota.

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