Human Flourishing and Justice

Offender Rehabilitation and Restorative Prisons Symposium

On October 26, 2023, representatives from Prison Fellowship International, Pepperdine University, Prison Fellowship Colombia, the Colombian National Penitentiary and Prison Institute and the Colombian Senate presented an exciting new partnership between them regarding a multi-year study in Colombia’s prison system to measure the efficacy of international prison programming in offender rehabilitation, recidivism reduction and general correctional reform. 

Since 1979, Prison Fellowship International 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.

Founded in 1937, Pepperdine University is an independent, Christian university located 30 miles west of Downtown Los Angeles in scenic Malibu, California. Pepperdine is committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.

Prison Fellowship Colombia has been active in prison ministry for over 20 years, with access to over 83% of the nation’s prisoners through a portfolio of ministry programs for prisoners, their families, and crime victims. 

The National Penitentiary and Prison Institute of Colombia (INPEC) is a central government institution that is responsible for the incarceration, development and rehabilitation of prisoners, along with the administration of the country’s penitentiary system.  

Press Conference Speaker Recap

To kick off the press conference, Pepperdine University President Jim Gash shared about the Center for Faith and the Common Good, the university’s academic home for scholarly investigations of how faith and religion impact flourishing, under which this research and study is being conducted. As a platform to integrate scholarship, student engagement and global impact, the center develops innovative ideas with scholars and leaders to send out brilliant leaders of faith, character, courage and creativity.

Learn from President Gash about how Pepperdine University is fulfilling its vision through this partnership:

El Presidente Gash nos explica cómo la Universidad Pepperdine está haciendo realidad su visión a través de esta asociación:

Prison Fellowship International President and CEO Andy Corley then expressed his excitement for the partnership, as it represents a giant leap forward in accomplishing the organization’s vision to break the cycle of crime.

Prison Fellowship Colombia is one of Prison Fellowship International’s most successful national ministries, as they reach over 20% of the prison population, marking a tipping point. They also work outside of prison with families. Both of these are vital aspects of breaking the cycle of crime, which is why Colombia was chosen as the initial study location.

Andy often gets asked how Prison Fellowship International programs affect recidivism. The answer? There isn’t any empirical data to reach a conclusion. This is why this project, and the data collection that comes with it, is so important.

Listen in as Andy shares about the prospect of collecting strong data: 

Escucha lo que Andy nos cuenta sobre la posibilidad de recopilar datos sólidos:

A pre-recorded video of Colombian Senator Lorena Ríos Cuéllar demonstrated her gratitude to each organization for enabling the study of Colombian prisoners. She emphasized the Colombian Senate’s commitment to ensuring successful implementation of this study. Understanding that rehabilitation is crucial for prisoner transformation, the study’s findings will help create projects and legislative initiatives aimed at making rehabilitation the standard, not the exception, in Colombian detention centers.

Dr. Sung Joon Jang, visiting scholar at Pepperdine University, shared an overview and some details of the complex project, including:

Dr. Byron Johnson, co-executive director of Pepperdine University’s Center for Faith and the Common Good, added to the details, mentioning the one-of-a-kind integrated database being created with data collection. By tracking prisoners while studying their family and children, puzzle pieces will come together that help explain how people can live crime free, a question that’s never been answered until now. These findings begin to unfold a giant laboratory in Colombia.

Hear Dr. Johnson’s thoughts on the global impact that this study could have:

Escuche la opinión del Dr. Johnson sobre el impacto global que podría tener este estudio:

Via Zoom, Colonel Daniel Gutierrez, general director of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute, shared how honored they are to participate in such an important project that involves multiple academic and ministry members. The government is viewing this as a humanization process, for both prison guards and prisoners.

“Over the next two years, we are dedicated to creating a solid database that will serve as an example for other countries who will do projects like this moving forward.”

Prison Fellowship Colombia Executive Director Lácides Hernández, who has been dedicated to transforming the lives of prisoners and their families in Colombia for over 35 years, is working to counteract the country’s culture of never-ending, cyclical violence, murder and death. Prison Fellowship International has served as a real inspiration and resource for him, as he has learned how to use multiple tools to work with prisons and prisoners nationally. Both Prison Fellowship International and Prison Fellowship Colombia exist to break the cycle of crime and restore lives, worldwide, though Jesus’ love. Transformation and reconciliation cannot be limited to just the prisoner, which is why both organizations have programming inside and outside the walls of prison.

Listen in as Lácides explains the importance of this project:

Escuche cómo Lácides explica la importancia de este proyecto:

He reiterated that while this study is taking place in Colombia, the results will direct many national ministries all around the world.

Cameron McCollum, administrative director for Pepperdine University’s Center for Faith and the Common Good, rounded out the session by sharing about the work that the university’s Sudreau Global Justice Institute does in their mission to partner with governments around the world to aid them in building the capacity of their justice system, so that all people have timely access to justice. This vision is accomplished through drafting and implementing plea bargains in countries with heavy backlogs, training key stakeholders and advocating for under-resourced individuals.

Hear Cameron’s perspective on potential future collaboration between the institute and Prison Fellowship International:

Escuche el punto de vista de Cameron sobre la posible colaboración futura entre el instituto y Prison Fellowship International:

In total, 320 attendees, including media, organizational representatives and employees, other partner organizations, and national ministry staff and volunteers, joined the symposium (295 online and 25 in-person in Malibu, California). Participants tuned in from 25 countries around the world.

Questions Asked and Answered

When will research in prisons in Colombia begin?

Research has already begun as pre-tests administration was initiated on the week of October 30. The studies will be conducted in a staggered way, so some projects won’t launch until spring 2024. This approach makes the most sense when considering the range of programs being studied across different communities, in different prisons. This project was initially imagined as three to five years, but God-willing, it will be a lot longer than that.

Can interim observations and results along the course of the research be expected?

Yes. In the past studies, researchers were reluctant to publish results during the course of the study. However, for this project, researchers have decided to submit publications while conducting research and will also hold numerous events to share preliminary findings.

Will changes in the Colombian government impact its commitment to this project? Can longevity of the project be assured, even with political shifts?

The team is confident that the project will carry on even in the event of unusual changes in the Colombian government. During previous experiences in Colombia, positive preliminary findings create anticipation for further discoveries during the study.

This excitement, paired with the strong relationships that Prison Fellowship Colombia has maintained with the prison systems and the fact that employees within the prison systems generally stay in place independently of governmental changes, are the baseline for the team’s confidence that there will be limited to no difficulties if facing these circumstances.

Would the Sudreau Global Justice Institute and Pepperdine University be open to working in other countries?

Yes. Funding and support are needed to do that, but God willing, those items would be just details to determine

Can I watch the whole symposium?

Yes. Find the entire symposium here (in both English and Spanish).

How can I learn more?

To learn more, please contact Prison Fellowship International at [email protected].