Evidence of Impact – Studies Show Program Effects

Baylor University Research Provides Evidence:

PFI Faith-Based Program Transforms Prisoners, Prisons

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.

Read more in the full press release.


Baylor University Research Team

Byron Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. He is the founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). He is a Faculty Scholar in the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University, Senior Fellow with the Witherspoon Institute (Princeton), Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute (Indianapolis), and is a Senior Advisor at the Religious Freedom Institute (Washington, DC). Before joining the faculty at Baylor University, Johnson directed research centers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Johnson is a former member of the Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Presidential Appointment). He has been the principal investigator on grants from private foundations as well as the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and the United States Institute for Peace, totaling more than $77 million. He is the author of more than 200 journal articles, monographs, or books. He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, and criminal justice. Recent publications have examined the impact of faith-based programs on offender treatment, drug addiction, recidivism reduction and prisoner reentry and is the subject of his book, More God, Less Crime (2011). Johnson also directs the Program on Prosocial Behavior, which examines the ways in which religion impacts key behaviors like volunteerism, generosity, and purpose. These topics are covered in four recent books, The Angola Prison Seminary (2016), which evaluates the influence of a Bible College and inmate-led congregations on prisoners serving life sentences; The Quest for Purpose (2017), which examines the link between religion and finding purpose and meaning, and the subsequent link to academic integrity; The Restorative Prison (2021), which looks at the empirical evidence in support of the link between religion and the emerging sub-field of positive criminology; and Objective Religion(2021), which looks at the relationship between religion and competition, tension, and perseverance. Johnson is currently the project director of the Global Flourishing Study, a longitudinal study that will survey 300,000 participants annually from 2021 to 2026.


Sung Joon Jang is a Research Professor of Criminology and co-director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior within Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). Before joining Baylor University, Jang held appointments at Ohio State University and Louisiana State University. His research focuses on the effects of religion and spirituality as well as family, school, and peers on crime and delinquency. It has been published in social scientific journals of sociology, criminology, psychology and social work. Jang is the founding President of the Korean Society of Criminology in America and has been active in many capacities in the American Society of Criminology.