Our History

Charles Colson, former aide to U.S. President Richard Nixon, served seven months in a federal prison camp for a Watergate-related offense. There, he became convinced the real solution to crime is found through spiritual renewal. This solution grew into Prison Fellowship International, the world’s largest network of prison ministries.

  • 1976: Charles “Chuck” Colson establishes Prison Fellowship in the United States.
  • 1979: Colson expands his vision outside the United States, founding Prison Fellowship International (PFI) with representatives from ministries in the U.S., England, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Bahamas with the purpose of developing and serving national Prison Fellowship organizations.
  • 1983: Prison Fellowship International receives special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
  • 1996: Sycamore Tree Project, a program designed to bring victims in prison to meet with unrelated offenders to repair the harm caused by crime and make amends, is launched worldwide.
  • 2012: Colson passes away, leaving a lasting legacy.
  • 2013: PFI launches the Children of Prisoners Program, a first-of-its kind intervention, sponsorship program for children of prisoners in Cambodia and Costa Rica. 
  • 2014: Prison Fellowship International partners with Christianity Explored Ministries to adapt curriculum and conduct initial volunteer training for a new, scalable in-prison program to help prisoners meaningfully engage with the Gospel. The Prisoner’s Journey® is then launched in Nigeria and South Africa. Bible League International partners with PFI to distribute Bibles at The Prisoner’s Journey® graduations.
  • 2016: The Sycamore Tree Project is adapted and rebooted as Sycamore Tree Project: Justice and Peace® to allow for even more countries to engage with the program, and is piloted in two countries.
  • 2019: Prison Project Philip, a program adapted from Bible League International, is launched as an in-prison discipleship course to The Prisoner’s Journey®. PFI, in partnership with the Grace and Mercy Foundation, pioneers bringing the Public Reading of Scripture program, which allows groups of prisoners to listen to the Scriptures being read aloud, globally. 
  • 2020: Prison Fellowship International partners with Biblica to provide scripture resources for the Children of Prisoners Program. 
  • 2021: The Children of Prisoner’s Program is enhanced and rebooted as The Child’s Journey®. PromisePath® a new, scalable modular child’s program providing a network of support around children of prisoners, launches in four countries. The Prisoner’s Journey® reaches 1 million prisoners.  
  • 2022: Through PFI’s strategic partnership with Faith Comes By Hearing, The Listener’s Way, an in-prison program providing gospel films and audio Bible translations in each prisoner’s heart language, debuts.
  • Today: Prison Fellowship International continues to serve prisoners, their families and victims of crime in more than 117 countries across the world, impacting hundreds of thousands of lives with the Good News of the Gospel every year.

What makes Prison Fellowship International unique from other international Christian ministries is our focus on multi-denominational, indigenous leadership and local funding. This grassroots presence enables us to minister to prisoners and their families in culturally relevant ways.


Looking for ways to help the history of PFI extend into the future?

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