~What did re-entry to society of prisoners look like in Jesus day?~

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Our mission at Second Chance Alliance

We believe that no life is beyond the reach of God’s power, and we envision a future in which countless prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, are redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We equip local churches and thousands of trained volunteers to spread the Gospel and nurture disciples behind prison walls, so that men and women become new creations in Christ – not repeat offenders. We prepare Christian inmates to become leaders of their families, communities, and churches once they are released back into the community. We support inmates’ families, helping them become reconciled to God and one another through transformative relationships with local churches.

Throughout the long history of corrections, religious persons and religious institutions have greatly influenced the treatment of offenders.  For centuries, churches were among the first institutions to provide asylum for accused criminals. The actual establishment of prisons and penitentiaries was a religious idea to that allowed the offender to obtain penance for his crimes, make amends, and convert while being isolated from others.  But probably the most significant influence was the establishment of a regular chaplaincy. Correctional chaplains were among the earliest paid non-custodial staff and were the first to provide education and counseling for inmates. Currently, many correctional inmates practice their religion on an individual basis or within the structure of an organized religious program.  Religious programs are commonplace in jails and prisons and research indicates that one in three inmates participates in some religious program during their incarceration.

Historical Background

The influence and practice of religion in the correctional setting is as old as the history of prisons.  Initial entry of religion into prison was probably carried out by religious men who themselves were imprisoned.  The Bible stories of such prisoners include Joseph and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, and John the Baptist, Peter, John, and Paul in the New Testament.   Beginning in the days of Constantine, the early Christian Church granted asylum to criminals who would otherwise have been mutilated or killed.  Although this custom was restricted in most countries by the fifteenth century, releasing prisoners during Easter time, and requests by Church authorities to pardon or reduce sentences for offenders, remained for centuries with the latter still in existence in a modified form.

Imprisonment under church jurisdiction became a substitute for corporal or capital punishment.  In medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church developed penal techniques later used by secular states such as the monastic cell that served as a punishment place for criminal offenders. In 1593 the Protestants of Amsterdam built a house of correction for women, and one for men in 1603. In Rome, what are now the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, built correctional facilities for women, and in 1703 Pope Clement XI built the famous Michel Prison as a house of correction for younger offenders with separation, silence, work, and prayer emphasized. As late as the 18th century, the Vatican Prison still served as a model prison design for Europe and America.

Early settlers of North America brought with them the customs and common laws of England including the pillory, the stocks and the whipping post.  During the 18th century isolating offenders from fellow prisoners became the accepted correctional practice.  It was thought that long-term isolation, combined with in-depth discussions with clergy, would lead inmates to repent or become “penitent”—sorry for their sins.  Thus the term “penitentiary” was derived.   West Jersey and Pennsylvania Quakers were primarily responsible for many of the prison reforms. They developed the idea of substituting imprisonment for corporal punishment and combining the idea of the prison with the workhouse.  The prototype of this regime was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia that in style reflected the Quakers’ belief in man’s ability to reform through reflection and remorse.

Even during the 19th century when daytime work was initiated by the Auburn System, solitary confinement at night was still the norm in correctional practice. The forced solitary confinement was thought to serve the same repenting purpose as the older penitentiary.  Belief in education as a tool for reducing criminal activity also assisted in the growth of religion in prison. Because of the limited budgets of correctional institutions, Chaplains were often called upon to be the sole educator in many American prisons.  The “schooling” often consisted of the chaplain standing in a dark corridor with a lantern hanging from the cell bars while extolling the virtues of repentance.

Volunteers also have a long history in corrections that can be traced back to the beginning of prisons. In the last 200 years many religious groups have entered correctional facilities to provide religious services to inmates.  One of the most famous advocates for volunteers in corrections was Maud Ballington Booth, the daughter-in-law of William Booth who founded the Salvation Army.  Today, volunteers are vital to religious programs and without them inmate participation would surely be limited. Faith representatives would be unable to minister to the large number and variety of inmates.

Many older correctional institutions are being refurbished or destroyed; replaced with facilities designed for better observation and security.  Yet the initial influence of religion on the philosophy and the design of the penitentiary will surely remain in correctional history.

MISSION STATEMENT

  • To provide ministry to those that are incarcerated.
  • To provide aftercare ministry to those released from jail or prison.
  • To provide ministry to the families of those incarcerated.

Many inmates leave prison as Christians and have a strong desire to participate in a Christian based aftercare program where they can develop relationships with other believers and continue to grow in faith. They need to know that they have a place in the body of Christ, where they are accepted, loved and nurtured.

Why should the community be concerned about the aftercare of ex-offenders?

In the United States, approximately 1,600 people will leave state and federal prisons every day. Most will start their journey back into society with “gate money” ($20 – $200), a one-way bus ticket and little else. Many will be drug abusers who received no treatment for their addictions, sex-offenders who received no counseling and illiterate high school drop-outs who took no classes, and acquired no job skills.

Only about 13 percent of prisoners will have participated in any kind of pre-release program to prepare them for life outside of prison. Nearly 25 percent will be released with no supervision. Nearly two-thirds will return to just a few metropolitan areas in their states where they will be further concentrated in struggling neighborhoods that can ill-afford accommodate them.

Almost all prisoners get out eventually. What happens when they do, however, is not a topic that has held the interest of legislators who passed mandatory sentencing laws, abolished parole boards and eliminated funding for prisoner education and training. As a result, prison sentences have grown longer, while prisons have done nothing to prepare inmates for life outside of prison. A study sponsored by the Virginia Department of Correctional Education tracked recidivism rates for inmates who had pursued an education, and found the rate was 59 percent lower than those who had not. Ironically, even as the evidence in favor of such programs mounts, willingness and capacity to fund them continues to shrink.

Ex-offenders leaving prison have cause to fear the wrath of “free-world” residents, much like Onesimus had cause to fear his former master. In a society that casts a jaundiced eye toward the “usual suspects,” men with limited job skills, who are trying to rebuild their lives with few resources can relate to Onesimus’ situation.

Paul urged Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Onesimus Ministries urges people to help ex-offenders get a fair shot at rebuilding their lives. Onesimus Ministries began as one man ministering to men in a city jail. It has grown to include two residency locations, a bus ministry and other outreach efforts to people with criminal convictions. With a waiting list of 6-12 months for acceptance into the training center, the need is great and growing greater. In our approach to gain leverage and exposure to the various prisons,We are studying Onesimus Ministries brand and operational procedures and submitting to being a alternative facility for those who can get transfers. Please keep our vision before God….

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