“Go into all the world and preach the gospel,” Jesus told us in Mark 16:15.
That includes the places where no one willingly goes—the prisons.
Prisoners are one of the least-reached groups in the world. They are locked away, isolated, and vilified.
Outside the United States, the global prison population numbers about 8.1 million. Many inmates often serve their entire sentences without hearing about God’s mercy and forgiveness. Seventy-five percent of these men and women will re-offend within five years of their release—unless they have a change of heart.
Prisoners need to know God loves them. They need to know they can be forgiven and their lives can be transformed. Yet they live behind bars, cut off from society. Who will tell them Jesus loves them, and no one is beyond redemption—no matter who they’ve hurt or what they’ve done? Prisoners live in conditions that often promote violence and retribution. They learn to protect themselves by hardening their hearts to compassion and mercy. Without intervention, they will be eternally lost.
Prisoners are not the only ones affected by their crimes. Their children often suffer the most. Hidden, innocent victims—whole generations of children of prisoners—suffering, and in some cases, paying the ultimate price for the crimes of their parents. Their plight is largely unknown to the general public and, until recently, there was no solution in sight.
More than 12.4 million children outside the United States have lost one or both parents to imprisonment.
When a family breadwinner goes to prison, children are deeply impacted through no fault of their own. About 1 million children live in dire circumstances—forgotten, hungry, alone.
Children of prisoners are among the world’s most forgotten and destitute populations. They are much worse off than impoverished children who parents are not in prison. Research conducted in more than 20 countries shows they are poorer, more deprived of basic needs, more stigmatized, more victimized, and more likely to eventually commit crimes. Yet their needs fall between the cracks of what most child-focused programs provide. And their exposure to persistent, extreme exploitation multiplies its impact, making relief-related interventions ineffective.
Children of prisoners are truly the least of these. They are the ones Jesus tells us to care for—and they desperately need someone to care about them, someone to love them, someone to give them hope for a brighter future.
Justice systems worldwide are broken. Prison does not rehabilitate—most inmates will re-offend upon release. They do not have the opportunity to truly understand the harm that crime causes in victims’ lives. They do not meet and personally interact with people hurt by crime. They are not encouraged to reflect on the need for reparation, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Likewise, victims of crime are largely ignored. Their needs for healing are unmet, creating an emotional legacy of unresolved hurt and trauma.
For victims and offenders alike, the justice system is broken. It does not promote true biblical justice in the sense of restoring “shalom,” or wholeness.
Prison Fellowship International is committed to sharing the Gospel with prisoners, caring for their children, and restoring justice. We do this through three initiatives:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat… I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)