Inmate re-entry program effective, Baylor study shows

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WACO—A faith-based prisoner re-entry program in Minnesota has saved about $3 million by reducing repeat offenses, according to a Baylor University study.

The study, published in the International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, presents a cost-benefit analysis of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative. The program relies heavily on volunteers and is funded privately, said Byron Johnson, co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion and one of the authors of the study.

byron johnson130Byron Johnson“The InnerChange program is a boon to taxpayers. It doesn’t rely on public funding. Yet, at the same time, it provides a benefit by reducing recidivism, which results in fewer costs associated with crime,” said lead author Grant Duwe, research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and a nonresident scholar of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

In the debate over whether and how faith-based groups can be effective in working with government and secular entities to confront social ills, “this kind of research will be called for by policymakers,” Johnson said. “It just makes sense. Taxpayers want to know whether programs work—especially when religion is involved.”

The cost-benefit analysis followed up on a 2012 study that compared recidivism outcomes among 732 offenders released from Minnesota prisons between August 2003 and December 2009. In that study, a comparison group of 366 prisoners—who did not take part in the program—were matched with 366 InnerChange participants on factors associated with recidivism and program participation. The results showed InnerChange reduced re-arrest 26 percent, reconviction 35 percent and re-imprisonment for a new felony offense 40 percent.

grant duwe130Grant DuweDuwe and Johnson studied post-release employment and recidivism outcomes to estimate InnerChange’s financial impact on state income tax contributions, victimization costs, criminal justice system costs and lost productivity of prisoners. They found the program produced a benefit of nearly $8,300 per participant.

InnerChange includes Christian religious services, Bible study and prayer, substance abuse education, cognitive skill development, mentoring and seminars, as well as aftercare involving support groups, peer mentoring, interaction with volunteers and individual counseling.

Participants in the program need not be Christians. Volunteers, who are screened, represent a variety of denominations and are not necessarily theologically trained.

The program lasts 18 months in prison, followed by a yearlong re-entry phase.

The nation’s first InnerChange program—launched in 1997 for men in the Carol S. Vance Unit near Houston—was a joint venture by Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Eight InnerChange programs, including three for females, operate in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas.

The researchers noted many faith-based organizations do not consider seeking government funding to deliver social services. But many—especially in disadvantaged communities—are willing and eager to do so.

“In a time of economic hardship, it would seem prudent for secular and sacred groups to consider working together in order to develop evidence-based approaches to confront social problems like offender rehabilitation and prisoner re-entry,” the study concluded.

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