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).

Incorporate Prison Orientations Into Volunteer Training Plans

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Benefits

The idea of visiting a prison can be intimidating. Providing volunteers with a prison tour or opportunity to observe other volunteers in advance creates confidence, safety, and security for new volunteers. Creating safety for volunteers increases the likelihood of their long-term commitment.

Planning Considerations

Prepare

  • Create and send invitations for volunteers to visit a prison and attend a course.
  • Assign your team (Board, Executive Director, Program Manager) to serve as hosts, rather than relying on current volunteers.
  • Ask the prison leadership to be a part of the orientation: to present to the volunteers and to lead a tour of the facility.
  • Travel with the volunteers to the prisons. This allows you to get to know the volunteers, to understand how they are approaching the visit and provides you an opportunity to set expectations.
  • Walk the volunteers through the security vetting process – let them know what to expect upon arriving at a prison.
  • Develop a role shadowing program for potential volunteers, provide flexibility and multiple opportunities for potential volunteers to join.
  • Provide a copy of the prison dos and don’ts to review prior to visiting the prison.

On-Site

  • Detail the roles of the prison staff.
  • Introduce volunteers to prison staff so that they begin to know names/faces and vice versa.
  • Lead the volunteers through all the processes – entering a prison, security screening, finding the classroom, rest rooms, etc.
  • Tour the facility.
  • Pair up new volunteers to build volunteer teams that can work together and support each other.
  • Attend a TPJ or STP course.
  • Learn safety regulations.

Follow-Up

  • Debrief the course with the volunteers and course leaders.
  • Debrief the visit with the volunteers.

Required Resources

1. Human Resources

  • The National Ministry leadership will need to be available to host potential volunteers.
  • Someone will need to communicate with potential volunteers and prisons to arrange visits.
  • Someone will need to arrange transportation.

2. Collateral

  • Invitations (print and web-based)
  • Copies of prison dos and don’ts

3. Time

  • Develop a role shadowing program
  • Volunteer coordination
  • Time to visit prison(s)
  • Time to debrief

4. Space

  • You will need the ability to enter a prison and space to observe courses.

5. Cost

  • The cost varies.
  • Considerations include travel expenses and types of communication (email, phone, text).

NM with Demonstrated Experience in this BP

Canada
Czech Republic
Liberia
Keep in mind that prison directors are primarily responsible for security, not rehabilitation. If you want an effective prison ministry, your volunteers need to learn, respect, and abide by prison rules for visitors.
David Van Patten Chief Operating Officer, PFI
Prison Orientations have helped build volunteers' capacity and has allowed the ministry to maintain a good relationship between the Prison Authority and that of the inmates themselves. Prisoners see PF Liberia volunteers and staff as key stakeholders in bringing hope for them while in prison.
Rev. Francis S. Kollie Executive Director, Prison Fellowship Liberia
Visiting the prisons for volunteers in all countries is a challenge because it is a closed environment with many rules. It is very different from visiting a school, university, or church because, inside prisons, you have to follow the rules established by the authorities. That is why the preparation of volunteers is vital so that they can know and have an idea of ​​what the prison is like before they visit it for the first time.
Dorestela Medina Regional Director, Latin America

Train Volunteers for Prison Ministry

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Editor's Notebook

Our featured Best Practice is fitting for this season of Advent. As you incorporate prison orientations into volunteer training, you are preparing your volunteers to walk sure-footedly through shades of prison darkness so that they can effectively engage prisoners as witnesses to the Light.

The Q&A with Rev. Francis S. Kollie provides perspective on how PF Liberia has successfully used prison orientations to do just this. In the short time since 2017 when they began carrying out prison orientations, PF Liberia has brought together its staff, church volunteers and corrections officials in a shared ‘partnership’ where prison authorities see PF Liberia ‘as partners and not spies.’ And where prisoners see PF Liberia volunteers and staff as ‘key stakeholders in bringing hope for them while in prison.’ Praise God.

As the true Light told us in His Sermon on the Mount, ‘You are the light of the worldlet your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 14, 16). May God bless and guide you and your ministry this season and all year through, as you and your volunteers bear witness to the Light who has come, is with us and will come again.

Advent blessings,

Christine

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”
—John 1:4–9

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