News and Updates from the Family

Issue 29 | May 24, 2023

Best Practice (BP):

Best practices are specific, discrete ministry activities that measurably increase program scale, effectiveness, and/or efficiency, and can be replicated by other National Ministries. Best practices should be supported by evidence (data).

Identify and Screen Victims to Participate in Sycamore Tree Project®

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National ministries should consider victim* needs as they implement their programs and activities, like the Sycamore Tree Project (STP). While each person harmed has unique needs, common needs are:

  • Sharing their story in a safe environment
  • Understanding why the offending person committed the crime
  • Feeling supported and believed
  • Overcoming fear and anxiety
  • Finding meaning from the experience

STP can help meet victim needs that arise from crime. But because we focus on inmates and their transformation, often we fail to give equal attention to understanding and meeting these needs.

*PFI recognizes that labels like “victim” and “offender” narrowly define people and risk stigmatizing them. Often, the victim/offender distinction is blurred. Still, we often use “victim” in this document for clarity and conciseness.



  • To what extent does your organization consider victims and their needs in your ministry?
  • Does your team understand common victim needs that arise from crime and seek to address those needs through your programs, when possible?
  • When you engage victims, do you validate their experiences and seek to identify and address their needs?


  • Does your ministry have a reputation as a victim sensitive organization among people in the government and nonprofit sectors?
  • To what extent does your ministry collaborate with organizations that work with crime victims?


  • In the past, how might you have created distrust with victims and victim-centered organizations that you need to address?
  • Do you have the victims’ needs in mind when recruiting them to participate in your ministry?

Step 1: Increase Focus on Victim Needs in Your Ministry

  • Sensitize staff and volunteers about victim needs and perspectives. Incorporate training sessions that educate staff and volunteers on victim rights, needs and trauma. You and your team need to:
    • Understand common needs for persons harmed from crime and ways to meet those needs.
    • Understand trauma, ways it manifests itself and tools to manage its impact.
    • Understand victim rights in statutory and procedural law in your context. Become familiar with legally mandated safeguards and services to keep crime victims safe and meet their needs.
    • Amplify the victims’ perspective and share their experiences among the team, for example, during staff discussions, meetings and office events.
  • Incorporate ways to meet victim needs within programs and activities, especially STP. Review programs and activities with a victim-focused lens.
    • Seek to meet victims’ expressed needs during STP sessions, for example, when they share their stories and at graduation ceremonies.
    • Intentionally incorporate ways to bring in the victim’s perspective in all your programs and activities. Keep in mind that people in prison almost always have experienced trauma as victims too.
    • Include and appreciate victims as you would all other volunteers and participants in your ministry

Step 2: Motivate Victims to Participate

As you sensitize your team and incorporate the victim’s perspective in your ministry, likely it will become easier to recruit people to participate as victims.

  • Use referrals from existing volunteer networks. Word of mouth referrals from other volunteers or participants work best, especially referrals from victims who have already participated in STP. Remember, some current volunteers may have been crime victims in the past and could potentially participate as victims.
  • Incorporate victim perspectives during speaking engagements and promotional events.
    • Incorporate stories how programs meet victim needs in social media campaigns, fundraising events, speaking engagements and church presentations.
    • When recruiting volunteers, specify the need for people to participate as crime victims. Ask people who have participated as victims during STP to share their experiences and how STP met their needs.
  • Build relationships with likeminded organizations that work with victims.
    • Connect with organizations that provide victim support services, such as counseling agencies, victim advocate groups or victim support units at police stations.
    • Consider participating in coalitions or attending conferences where victim- focused organizations participate.
    • Avoid exerting energy building relationships with organizations that have adversarial or punitive mindsets or distrust faith based or prisoner-oriented organizations.
  • Strategy ideas:
    • Consider incorporating activities that meet victim needs for healing into your long-term strategy, such as counseling services or victim support groups.
    • When you work with victims, it gives greater credibility among key stakeholders, such as criminal justice professionals, government officials and academic institutions.

Step 3: Screen Victims

Invite victims to an initial meeting where you give them information to make informed decisions about whether to participate. These meetings may range from one-on-one conversations to larger group meetings.

  • Build credibility. The initial meeting is your chance to make a strong impression and show victims that you value them and their needs. Use the meeting to learn about their healing journeys, hear their stories and motivations, and establish relationships.
  • Give information.
    • Introduce Prison Fellowship. Be transparent as possible when speaking about PF’s mission and values. In some contexts, you’ll need to build trust with government officials or non-Christian organizations. Use your discretion in how you share about our Christian identity in these contexts.
    • Share about STP and the experience. Clarify that STP is not an evangelical program, but supports all victims in their healing journeys and all offenders to desist from crime.
      • Victim needs. Emphasize common needs crime victims have and how STP helps meet those needs.
      • Inmate needs. Highlight that when victims share their stories, it helps inmates more deeply understand the harm they’ve caused and reduces the likelihood they’ll reoffend.
  • Address concerns. Understand common fears and anxieties victims might have. Discuss how you will keep them safe and provide support. But be realistic about risks.
    • Prison environment. Share openly about the prison environment and what victims can expect—from when they arrive to when they leave. At larger initial meetings, consider asking a prison official to speak about the environment.
    • Preparation. Discuss the preparation process for STP session(s), including help victims will receive to articulate and share their stories.
    • Support and accommodations. Discuss support or accommodations you provide to help victims feel safe and comfortable during the experience.
  • Analyze readiness to participate. Have as many one-on-one conversations as required to understand victims’ readiness to participate. Use your discretion whether victims are mentally and emotionally ready to share their stories to inmates inside a prison facility.
    • Consider two questions (in order of priority):
      • To what extent will victims be able to share their stories freely and
      • To what extent will their sharing likely generate empathy in program
    • When answering these questions, consider five factors:
      • Type and recency of crime. How recent and serious was the crime?
        • Generally, the more serious or recent the crime, the greater the risk that sharing will cause victims emotional and mental harm.
        • Probe more deeply into factors 2 – 5 when crimes are serious and/or recent.
      • Commitment to healing. Is the victim actively working to heal from harm and build resilience? Probe to understand:
        • How far along victims are on their healing journey.
        • The extent they’re aware of their trauma, and how and when it affects them.
        • Tools they use to manage emotions tied to the experience.
      • Concern for inmate participants wellbeing. Probe to understand:
        • The extent victims want to create positive change in inmates’ lives.
        • Whether victims have a “revenge” mindset or want to lecture or teach inmates a lesson.
      • Access to support systems. Strong family and community ties that provide support as victims prepare to share their stories and after they’ve finished sharing. Probe to understand the victims’:
        • Supportive relationships with family, friends, church groups, support groups or counselors.
        • Unhealthy relationship dynamics that risk creating emotional instability or trigger emotional reactions when sharing.
      • Articulate story with emotion. Victim participants should articulate their stories with emotion. Probe to understand:
        • How easily victims can share sensitive details about their experience, especially emotions when the crime occurred and its impact on their lives.
        • Whether victims express little or no emotion when sharing their stories, thus making it less likely to generate empathy among inmates. 

Note: Psychological assessments risk stigmatizing or categorizing victims based on the results. If used, only do so to ask better questions about the victim’s emotional wellbeing and not as a factor when deciding whether they‘re ready to volunteer.

Key Practices

  • Make events convenient for crime victims to attend. Online events are often easier for people to join and for national ministries to organize.
  • Meet victims in a place they choose and where they feel comfortable, such as their home.
  • Do not pressure or coerce victims to participate in STP. They need to willingly make a fully informed decision. At any time, they can decide not to participate.
  • Invite current victim participants to initial meetings to share their experiences, answer questions and build connections with people interested to share their stories as victims.
  • During one-on-one meetings, you need to listen to the victims’ stories. If they‘re unable to share their story with you, they’ll be unable to share their story with a group in prison.
  • Anger is a normal emotion victims might express. But be attentive when their language or motives reflect anger that’s unhealthy or vindictive.
  • Take time to deconstruct labels that define people as “victims,” “offenders,” or “prisoners.” Simple exercises can show how the distinction between victim and offender is blurred and people often identify as both.
  • Some prison officials may not want “professional victims”, or people who repetitively share their stories, to participate in prison programs. To avoid this risk, consider having victims share their stories at different prisons.
  • While you should let victims decide whether they want to continue sharing their stories, you may suggest they stop if you sense it becomes unhealthy.


What resources are required? 

In large part, national ministries need to direct time and energy toward building staff capacity around victim needs and incorporating those needs into programs and activities.

  • Time required to review programs and activities to see how to incorporate victim needs and perspectives into programs and activities.
  • Dedicated staff or volunteer, preferably a licensed social worker, psychologist or counselor, to meet victims and understand whether STP or other programs/activities can meet their needs.
  • Training on trauma-informed practice for staff and volunteers.
  • Training on legislation and policies related to victim rights during the criminal justice process for staff and volunteers.

How can I learn more? 

NM with Demonstrated Experience in this BP