WASHINGTON — A groundbreaking Baylor University study of a Prison Fellowship International (PFI) in-prison program provides evidence that the faith-based course transforms prisoners – and leads to culture change in prisons.
“PFI is providing innovative prison programs that are quickly becoming one of the centerpieces of the emerging field of positive criminology,” said Dr. Byron Johnson, founding director of the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) at Baylor University.
Johnson leads the Baylor ISR research team conducting a longitudinal evaluation of PFI’s “The Prisoner’s Journey” (TPJ) course – which has already graduated more than 460,000 inmates worldwide. The research team conducted the first phase of the study in prisons in South Africa and Colombia during a 40-month period from January, 2018 to April, 2021. (They plan to continue the study and expand to more countries.)
Researchers are finding ample evidence to say empirically that participation in the TPJ course measurably increases prisoners’ motivation for identity transformation (new meaning and purpose in life despite criminal past and incarceration) and growth of virtues. The program also reduces negative feelings and the risk of aggressive behaviors among participants. These changes in attitudes and beliefs are key indicators of a prisoner’s successful rehabilitation.
“Our study of TPJ provides empirical evidence that prisoner rehabilitation needs more than risk management – specifically, a positive criminology approach to help prisoners achieve life goals of human flourishing, such as meaning and purpose; character and virtue; and emotional well-being,” said Dr. Sung Joon Jang, research professor of criminology, co-director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior at ISR and co-author with Johnson of “The Restorative Prison,” released this month.
“The Prisoner’s Journey” (TPJ)
TPJ is an in-prison, structured course designed to “transform the lives of prisoners, from the inside out, by introducing them to restorative principles taught by Jesus, who was also a prisoner.” It is centered on the book of Mark in the Bible, facilitated by trained inmates or volunteers.
Since its inception in 2014, more than 460,000 inmates worldwide have graduated from the eight-week TPJ course. More than 70% of these graduates have continued in a follow-on discipleship program. Currently, TPJ runs in 39 countries spanning the globe, including Africa, Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Global Prison Ministry
Fifteen million people around the world are imprisoned annually. Problem-ridden correctional systems and high recidivism demonstrate that prisons alone are ill-equipped to rehabilitate inmates. The steadily growing rate of imprisonment and the massive impact imprisonment has on society form a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
PFI’s Bible-based prison course and unparalleled access to prisons worldwide – through indigenous ministry affiliates and partners – make it uniquely prepared for the challenge. Now, with the Baylor research that proves this program works, PFI is gearing up to continue expanding ministry activities that have carried on during the pandemic lockdowns and limitations on visitations by the empowering of Christian prisoners to run PFI courses.
“The Baylor research findings couldn’t come at a better time,” said David Van Patten, chief operating officer of PFI. “We are at the front end of a major push to engage 20% of the world’s prison population with transformative programs like TPJ. We believe that at 20% we will trigger cultural change in prisons. This Baylor research is evidence that we are on the right track.”
“We could not be more excited about the work (and the results) that this study represents,” said Andrew Corley, president and chief executive officer of PFI. “Breaking cycles of crime and the restoring of lives for those who have been in prison is a complex issue. Ignoring the ‘body, spirit, soul’ tripartite nature of what is necessary for successful reintegration and rehabilitation will result in continued disappointing outcomes. But this study provides proof positive that better outcomes are possible.”
“Programs like TPJ yield empirical validation of the reality that much of the truly innovative work being done in the name of prison reform is coming from faith-based programs operated by organizations like Prison Fellowship International,” said Johnson. “These remarkable programs – led by faith-motivated volunteers — are doing a lot to transform individuals and prisons across the world. I hate to think where we would be without these ministries that are dedicated to serving the least of these.”
About Prison Fellowship International
Since 1979, PFI has helped prisoners experience transformation from the inside out through the healing power of the Gospel. Its mission is to transform the lives of prisoners, their families and victims through a global network of ministry partners. Learn more at pfi.org.