New Behavioral Study to Explore Impact of Bible-Based Programming in Prisons

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.

B MABUNDA | South Africa

Jesus Gave Me Peace

My name is B Mabunda. I did not know Jesus, but one day I was invited to church by [a friend]. When they called the people to receive the Lord Jesus as Savior, I went. And that day I found peace.

And then I went with [my friend] to  The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program where I found that Jesus came to give life to me. I now thank Jesus for the peace I have found in many ways!

Help other prisoners experience the peace of Christ.

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PAVENDRAJ | South Africa

“God has a Purpose for Us”

Because of participating in the The Prisoner’s Journey, our in-prison Bible study and discipleship program, Pavendraj says, “I have gained more knowledge and experience, which I’m thankful to God for.”

With his history of drugs and gang involvement, Pavendraj identified with the testimonies presented during the course’s video series. He says,

“I could relate to the issues of drugs and gang involvement. It brought tears to my eyes and made me think of my son and family, and even the victims and their families. I saw the worst of criminal lives transformed—even myself giving my heart to Christ.”

Pavendraj committed to never look back. He has been reminded that no matter how hopeless things may look, “God has a plan and purpose for us all—even the worst of us,” he says.

Pavendraj continues, “I am glad God is working in our lives and providing all the spiritual support and help through people like the staff of The Prisoner’s Journey.”

Help prisoners like Pavendraj discover healing and transformation through Christ.

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NICO | South Africa

“I Obtained Peace… “

Nico is the youngest in a family of six children. With the 10-year age gap between him and his older siblings, growing up Nico felt isolated, rejected, and small.

When his father turned a past addiction into a lucrative business by opening a tavern, most of Nico’s growing up years were spent in the tavern. He spent his formative years surrounded by violence, watching adults brawling and selling themselves. Nico’s father showed his love by buying whatever Nico wanted. This taught Nico to demand more things. His poor choices and violent behavior escalated as years passed. By age 18, Nico was involved in small-time mafia. Nico lived extravagantly, but emotionally he was tormented.

One day, a fight with his wife resulted in him killing one of her children. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. When he was released, Nico’s old habits returned and his violence increased. Sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his second wife, Nico tried to commit suicide twice.

“The doors of hoped closed,” he says, and he cried to Jesus.

Several years later, in June of 2012, Jesus met him in a real way during The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelization and discipleship program. During the course, Jesus “revealed His love and grace and forgiveness to me,” Nico says. “I obtained peace.”

Nico knows Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and continues to learn about God. He has been baptized.

“I know I have been given a place in Heaven,” Nico says. “It’s not because of what I have done, but because of what Jesus did for me. He died for me and shed his blood for me so I can be peaceful, happy, kind, self-controlled, persevering, patient, and I feel His love for me.”

Nico continues, “It’s a long journey of a life sentence with no visitation or support system. But His grace encompasses me. I cannot love Him as much as Jesus loves me. I feel Him daily, and when I fall, He lifts me up. I’m free and waiting for Jesus to welcome me into Heaven. ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.’”

Help prisoners like Nico find peace through Jesus Christ.

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DUNCAN | South Africa

“I Have a Second Chance” 

“This course has made me step back and look at the way I lived my life previously,” says Duncan, talking about his experience in The Prisoner’s Journey® Bible study program.

When Duncan’s son was killed in his place, during a drive-by shooting, Duncan resigned himself to living out of his pain and trauma. After his son was buried, Duncan revenged his son’s death, killing those responsible.

During his prison sentence, Duncan was invited to participate in The Prisoner’s Journey.

“Now after doing the course,” he says, “I know I have a second chance at life. I know God forgives us for our sins—doesn’t matter how bad the sin is. He will clean us and take us under His care and protection.”

Watching the course’s DVDs, which share the stories of other prisoners—others Duncan identifies as “just like me”—who now give God all the praise and glory, Duncan felt he, too, could give his heart to God.

“God died on the cross for our sins so we can choose right from wrong,” says Duncan. “His life had value and was paid as a ransom for our lives. I am now willing to give Jesus my entire life, and live the way He wants me to live—to glorify His kingdom.”

Duncan concludes, “I cannot change with my own strength, but I can with the strength God instills in me!”

Help a prisoner like Duncan find God’s strength and forgiveness.

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THATI | South Africa

Thati grew up in South Africa, knowing nothing of God or the Bible.Help rescue children of prisoners, sentenced to misery for the crimes of their parents.

He lived with his mother in terrible poverty. “I remember days we did not have enough food to eat or even decent clothes to wear. We were so poor.”

His father lived far away and died when Thati was young.

When he was 13, Thati was sent to an “initiation school,” which serves as a rite of passage for boys in traditional Xhosa culture. It was winter, and he was given only two thin blankets. He and the other boys were hungry, prohibited from bathing, and subjected to rituals too disturbing to recount.

One of those included physical mutilation which has taken the lives of many young men.

Thati came home harboring terrible rage and fell in with the wrong people. Angry, he turned to violent crime and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

And it was there, in prison, where Thati’s real journey began.

He signed up for The Prisoner’s Journey, our six-month course designed to introduce prisoners to the redemptive power of Christ, and for the first time owned his own Bible. His life was transformed.

“For the first time in my life, I was not judged, only loved. I learned about mercy, grace, why Jesus had to die . . . that he was a ransom for me! I learned about unconditional love . . . and I want to live the way Jesus did as He came to be an example.”

Today, Thati has not only been redeemed, his heart is also on fire to spread hope to others.

“I want to go wherever God sends me to carry out my living testimony. It burns inside of me like a candle, day and night. I cannot stop thinking about what Jesus did for me, and when I think of all the other people on this earth, who are still inside prisons and in gangs killing others, being drunk and on drugs, not living but being ‘living dead’ . . . I want to go and tell them what Jesus did for me.”

Thati is focusing on learning everything he can about the Gospel before he is released. Then “I will be ready to fly like an eagle to bring about the message of salvation.”

Help prisoners like Thati find freedom in Christ.

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