Despite strict COVID-19 lockdown guidelines prohibiting Prison Fellowship Nigeria staff or volunteers from entering prisons, the Gospel continues to reach prisoners in Nigeria through The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program and other initiatives.
Today, while external volunteers cannot access prisons to facilitate The Prisoner’s Journey, the course continues to run via prisoner volunteers and prison officers. However, many of the program’s graduation ceremonies—a highlight for prisoners—have not been able to take place.
While it is unclear when prisons will reopen their doors to visitors and outside staff, Prison Fellowship Nigeria is not deterred. In addition to The Prisoner’s Journey, they continue to innovate new ways to reach prisoners and meet their immediate needs. In response to COVID-19, Prison Fellowship Nigeria created a new program to make hygiene kits for prisoners. This program gained so much traction, it inspired one prison to provide financial support to create more kits to be distributed to every prison in the country.
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Prison Fellowship International (PFI) announced the commencement of a 40-month study to show the impact of a Bible-based program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, in prisons throughout Colombia, Nigeria, and South Africa.
There are more than 22,000 prisons worldwide, and more than 10 million incarcerated. Over the last 15 years, the worldwide prison population has grown almost 20 percent with the rate of repeat offenders soaring as high as 50 percent. Critics of contemporary criminal justice argue that by focusing exclusively on punitive justice, prisoners are not effectively rehabilitated and demonstrate greater difficulty reintegrating back into society and remaining outside the crime cycle upon release.
Prison Fellowship International developed The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program to address this issue by appealing to the internal transformation of prisoners as a rehabilitative method. First piloted in Nigeria and South Africa in 2014, it has spread to 30 countries, reaching nearly 400,000 prisoners, and is expected to reach 1 million prisoners by 2020.
“During the four years we’ve been running The Prisoner’s Journey® we’ve found when a prisoner is transformed at a heart-level, his or her chances of thriving outside of prison dramatically increase,” says Prison Fellowship International Director of Prison Programming Rae Wood. “We receive regular reports from prison officials that prisoners are calmer and fewer fights breakout among inmates after they go through the program. This study will be a breakthrough for us in empirically demonstrating the program’s long-term impact on the individual, the prison culture, and the local community.”
The study will be led by Dr. Byron Johnson, a prominent expert on the scientific study of religion, faith-based rehabilitation programs, and criminal justice. In February, the research team will begin collecting baseline data to launch a comparative analysis of prisoner behavior and outcomes between prisons that implement The Prisoner’s Journey® programs and those that do not. The study will also provide a prison cost-savings analysis of the program from reduced prison incidents, lower recidivism rates, and the prosocial benefits from family (re)engagement and improved employment for ex-prisoners. Johnson will publish his findings in relevant academic and peer-reviewed journals over the next three years.
About Dr. Byron Johnson:
Byron Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, offender treatment, and recidivism reduction. His recent book, The Angola Prison Seminary: Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation, uses survey analysis along with life-history interviews of inmates and staff to examine the impact of faith and the implications of religious programs for American correctional systems.