This past fiscal year, 71,214 offenders were discharged or released to community supervision or parole from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). This is up from 69,846 in FY 2005.
This growth is not unique to Texas it is a nationwide problem with nearly 650,000 individuals released from incarceration annually. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, parole population nationwide increased by 2.7% in 2004 and 1.6% in 2005.
With release numbers growing each year, programs and initiatives focused on an offender’s successful reentry have become an established, critical component of our criminal justice system.
One offender reentry initiative that has grown in popularity over the last few years is faith-based programming. Faith-based programs seek to change the values and attitudes of offenders by building new spiritual and moral foundations from within. Anchored in biblical teachings, many programs stress personal responsibility, the value of education, work, family and property, and a life with Christ.
InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), one of the largest faith-based programs, has been in operation at the Carol Vance Unit for over 10 years. This pre-release program, operated by Prison Fellowship Ministries, provides programming to offenders while incarcerated, as well as after release. Offenders volunteer for the program and commit to participating in a “Christ-centered 24-hour-a-day program.” Other criteria for participation in the program include the offender being within 18 to 30 months of release and returning to the greater Houston or Dallas-Fort Worth areas.
While confined, IFI immerses its offender members in structured, faith-based and life-skills activities for over 16 hours a day. The program focuses on eliminating the thinking process that resulted in the individual’s incarceration, thereafter rebuilding the offender’s value system, and thereby establishing a strong foundation for growth. Offenders are allowed the opportunity to use and test their newly developed value system in a variety of settings while working off-site on community service projects daily. After release, mentors and support groups from local churches provide additional programming tailored to fit the offenders’ particular needs to help them reintegrate back into their communities.
Also operational within the TDCJ system are similar, yet smaller faith-based dorm programs that serve the offenders during incarceration. Most of these dorm programs are coordinated through the unit chaplains and staffed by the wardens with services provided by various volunteers and faith-based organizations.
One of these the Alpha for Prisons and Reentry program is located on five TDCJ facilities, with expansion targeted in the near future. Current program sites include the Hutchins, Kegans, and Ney state jails and the Murray and Terrell units with expansion to the Beto Unit set for July 2007. The Alpha program targets life and parenting skills, spiritual training, public speaking, confidence building, anger management, a Christian 12-step substance abuse program, and job application training.
The Basic Life Principles faith-based dorm at the Dawson State Jail serves both male and female offenders and provides life principles courses, faith-based 12-step substance abuse programming and literacy training. Bible-Based Life Learners operates at the Plane State Jail and provides a Christian 12-step substance abuse program, as well as life skills, parenting, job placement, family and marriage development training, spiritual growth and awareness.
The God of Hope Ministries provides the Basic Life Principals program at the Travis State Jail with classes in Christian living, financial management, and family and marriage skills. Horizons Communities in Prisons serves minimum security offenders at the Allred Unit by providing programs such as parenting skills, communication, relationship building, spiritual discipleship, anger management, and addiction.
Spiritual Dynamics of Criminal Recovery and Relapse Prevention at the Eastham Unit concentrates on offender reentry preparation and teaching values and principles that are Christian-based. Participation in this particular faith-based dorm is available to offenders within two years of their parole eligibility, their next parole review date, or their minimum release date.
A quote used by Restorative Justice says it well: “Today’s inmates are tomorrow’s neighbors.” By taking the steps to help offenders alter their moral values, faith-based programs are providing them an opportunity to build a foundation to become productive, successful citizens with a future outside the criminal justice system.
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