Prisoners Receive Help from Prison Ministries Across the Nation

( [email protected] ) Feb 13, 2004 01:42 PM EST

Various ministries are being called to support the prisoners and offer housing and programs for job training

According to Knight Ridder Newspapers, with more than 600,000 prisoners scheduled for release nationwide this year, new attention is being focused on how job training keeps ex-convicts from returning to prison.

President Bush asked Congress to give community- and faith-based groups $300 million over the next three years to provide newly released prisoners job training, housing and counseling.

"We know from long experience that if they can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison," Bush said. "America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."

Many people are still skeptical of the faith-based initiative and its overall effectiveness.

"The biggest myth in corrections is that we can rehabilitate anybody," said Jon Ozmint, director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

However there is great hope for the faith-based programs to be efficient as the study shows that inmates who participated in a ministry program were fifty percent less likely to return to prison.

After the proposal of the faith-based initiative, every state is striving to set up programs to train inmates to find jobs once they are released.

Kansas, Texas, Iowa and Minnesota have hired Prison Fellowship, a ministry started by Chuck Colson, the former Watergate conspirator and ex-convict. The program begins preparing inmates to rejoin the work force and society up to 18 months before their release.

In Ohio, prison authorities are arranging video conferencing interviews between inmates and prospective employers.

In North Carolina, 74 prisons offer courses through local community colleges and help the prisoners to earn a GED or an associates degree.

Under a $300,000 state-funded pilot program called JobStart II, inmates with at least high school diploma could receive help finding jobs and overcoming their biggest barrier to employment, which is lack of social skills.

Jim Johnson, a director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said networking and soft skills are critical because many prisoners grow up in poor communities isolated from the informal networks that are critical to finding a job or building a career.

Leon Chrisp who used to serve in a prison more than 20 years says he was able to turn his life around after strengthening his relationship with God while he was in a North Carolina prison. "I had come to a point in my life where I wanted to surrender my life to God because nothing seemed to be working for me," said Chrisp.

After doing Bible study, he earned four community college certificates in two years and he began preaching in prison and got into a work-release program. Now things are going well for Chrisp.

"As long as I continue to stay focused on what I've learned," he said, "I'll be OK."