How to Change the Lives of Prisoners – An Introduction
After many years of staying silent in ministry, I feel that God has recently unleashed me once again. Part of this was due to God needing to properly discipline me, but part was embedded into a need to be more mature; mature as a pastor, a theologian, and just as a person.
Returning to a profoundly more active role has led me to two pathways in writing. I have spent many years writing materials on Biblical ideas and teachings, and I will return to that again, but I wanted to make a lesson that was rooted in being ultimately practical.
This is why this particular series will be focused on pure practicality. I wanted to provide a set of lessons that would not only help men and women getting out of prison, but their family, friends and, ultimately, society as a whole.
The Sad Reality
To start, it is time to face a dose of reality. The truth is that far too many men and women walking out of prison are destined to return. Consider these statistics for a moment. A 2005 study by the Department of Justice found that 43 percent of those on federal supervised parole or probation returned to prison within five years.
At the state level, the numbers are staggering. A 2018 study that looked at inmates who had been arrested between 2005-2014 found that 68 percent of those released were back in prison on a new charge within three years of their release. Within six years, the numbers jumped to 79 percent, and within nine years (2018), the number jumped to 83 percent.
The numbers become more staggering when you consider that the number of persons arrested within the first three years after their release was 82 percent. You may have looked at those first set of numbers and wondered how 68 percent were sent back to prison within the first three years but, somehow, 82 percent were arrested. There is a logical question.
With court systems back logged as they are, a person could spend a year, two, maybe even three in prison or out on bail before they actually were found guilty or took a plea deal. This means that a group of that 82 percent did not actually have their matter adjudicated until sometime after they were arrested.
While I felt it was important to explain this “inconsistency,” we must keep our eye on the ball here. What all of us should be focused on is that 82 percent of those getting out of prison on a state charge are arrested on a new charge within three years of being released. This is not them returning because of a parole violation, but because they committed a new crime.
That number should leave you flabbergasted. This means that only 18 percent of those who walk out of state prison will not commit a new crime within the first three years of their release. While the numbers vary, it is likely that about 400,000 are released from prison each year. This means that roughly 3.6 million people were released during that nine year period, and nearly three million of them returned to prison on a new charge. That is depressing.
Who Is to Blame?
I am not a believer in our current victimhood society, so I put the blame where it belongs – on the men and women themselves. In the vast majority of cases, no one forced them to commit new crimes. They chose that on their own, so the buck stops there.
However, I do not totally fault the former inmate. Our criminal justice system is broken. The reason that we have many people returning to prison like they are going through a revolving door is because the system is designed for people to return.
Consider this for a moment. There are no less than 11 professions dependent upon people committing crimes – lawmakers, lawyers, police officers, probation officers, clerks, corrections officers, reporters, bailiffs, judges, bail bondsmen, and victims’ advocates – and this does not even consider companies that build prisons, provide food and other materials, or companies and city governments that benefit from inmate labor. This is probably a $1 trillion industry nationwide, maybe even more, and so no one is likely going to want to do anything to actually create change. At least not anyone in these groups.
This means that we must make the change ourselves. For those coming out of prison, there has to be a genuine desire to do something different and to take the necessary steps to make that happen. It also means that friends, families, co-workers, bosses, and church members must do their part as well. These groups must embrace the teachings of God so that they can bring about transformation, and there is truly no better place to begin than with Love.
Also, consider that all of us are partially to blame as well. Most people would be happy to continually pay whatever taxes it takes, as long as those “horrible people” are locked up. Consider that you are literally throwing your money away.
Would you go to a surgeon who had an 18 percent success rate? How about an accountant who got your taxes right 18 percent of the time? They would be fired, but we look the other way with corrections. We know they are doing a terrible job (and they are), but we don’t care because we would be perfectly satisfied if most of these men and women were locked up for good.
by Robert Pannier