The spectacular growth in the prison population over the last several decades has culminated in a prisoner re-entry crisis as roughly 700,000 prisoners each year return to society.
Recidivism rates confirm what most everyone already knows – the transition from prison to society is very difficult for ex-prisoners to navigate.
In fact, many ex-prisoners commit new crimes shortly after release from prison.
Consider the results of a recent study which found ex-prisoners are 12 times more likely than the general population to experience death and even more likely to die as a result of drug overdose or suicide. The prisoner re-entry crisis is compounded by a struggling economy. Fiscal constraint in public spending has caused decision-makers to consider new strategies for saving money.
One such recommendation is to grant inmates early release from prison.
However, the results of Montana’s early release study have recently been published and indicate inmates released early were more likely to be re-arrested (and to be re-arrested more quickly) than a comparable group of offenders released from prison via traditional parole. The study found releasing inmates early is not the best way either to reduce correctional budgets or protect the public.
All the best data indicate that connecting ex-prisoners to social service providers in their local communities can help reduce recidivism.
Preliminary research finds that regular participation in volunteer-led Bible studies can reduce the likelihood of arrest and re-incarceration.
One new study documents that even inmate visitation can delay and reduce recidivism, while another recent study concludes volunteer mentors matched with prisoners in a faith-based prison can play a crucial role in helping former prisoners transition back to society.
The common denominator in each of these studies is the involvement of volunteers and social support.
Volunteer mentors, for example, can be especially consequential for prisoners as well as ex-prisoners because they tend to be good role models willing to build a relationship that allows them to hold offenders accountable outside the walls of the prison. Moreover, mentors have access to diverse social support networks that can help ex-prisoners overcome many obstacles to successful re-entry and aftercare.
Faith-motivated individuals and groups bring resources to bear on many social problems, especially those related to crime.
Facilitated through mentoring relationships, congregations can leverage human, social and spiritual capital to assist in providing stable housing, transportation, employment, education, budgeting and life-skills training. However, it is also true many faith-motivated individuals still remain isolated and insular in their approaches and tend not to embrace partnerships with other faith-based and community-based groups.
It is time for sacred-secular partnerships – at no cost to taxpayers – to test the proposition that such an approach can provide a replicable, scalable and verifiable way of reducing recidivism by helping prisoners and ex-prisoners successfully reintegrate to society. I’ll be headlining one such event on Friday.
Byron Johnson is an author and professor of social sciences at Baylor University. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.