CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The blessings and challenges of prison ministry

Most of us know that scripture calls us to visit those who are in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). Some of us think we may be suited to criminal justice ministry, while others are cynical or hostile to the thought of sharing mercy with the incarcerated. But there are a number of social and spiritual benefits to this ministry.
A few of these are:
• To help an inmate function more positively within the prison environment.
• To offer a connection between the community and inmates.
• To aid and support families of inmates.
• To prepare inmates for re-entry into society (physically, mentally, morally and spiritually).
• To offer practical re-entry assistance to (Read the full article at:

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Criminal Justice: Ministry efforts not limited to people behind bars

       For more than 30 years I have observed the trends and public response to ministry in the criminal justice system. When this area of ministry became more personal and I became directly involved, I began to look more clearly at the impact that Christian faith can have in the lives of people within the system.
       What I found was that in order to respond and share our faith in Christ we must first more clearly identify who is a part of that system.
     Most people hear “criminal justice” and think “prison” but the definition is more far-reaching than the offender. Oftentimes programs are developed by the faith community that direct our energies to the conversion of the incarcerated while other members of society who have been impacted by the stress of the criminal act are left wounded along the road.
       A comprehensive ministry of criminal justice, from a faith-based perspective, requires us to include ministry and outreach to the victims of the offenders where there are victims, the families of those incarcerated, all levels of law enforcement that work within the criminal justice system, the confined prisoner, and the ex-offender as they are reintroduced to the community.
      According to a recent report released by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008 there were 2,319,258 adults being held in American prisons or jails. The latest published reports show that in the state of Georgia, the average daily population being held under supervision of the Department Of Corrections was 57,026 in state prisons, 106 percent of capacity.
       These numbers currently put Georgia in the upper fifth of increase in prison population; and among the eight largest correctional programs in the United States. These figures reveal that for the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison — a fact that significantly impacts our state budget without providing a clear benefit on public safety.

Other facts:

  • One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, that figure is 233% higher for men of color.
  • The female prison population is increasing at a much faster pace than it is for males.
  • One in every 53 adults in their 20s is behind bars (1.89%). InGeorgiathis number is 16,152 or 29. 53% of the total prison population.
  • The majority of all prisoners are held at the state and local level (not federal)
  • World Prison Brief lists prison population rates per 100,000 residents of each country ~ U.S.tops the list with 743 prisoners per 100,000 residents, followed byRwandawith 595, theRussian Federationwith 559.
  • Reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes, 15.6 million property crimes, and 133,000 personal thefts were committed againstU.S.residents age 12 or older in 2009. This equates to more than 20,033,000 victims. **
       Although we can look at statistics and get a glimpse of the tragedy and heartbreak that surrounds our justice system, we are a people called to respond to the hurt and brokenness in the world and in our community. It is important that we note that prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a matching increase in crime, nor is there a corresponding swelling in the nation’s population at large.
       Instead, what we see is that more people are behind bars largely because of a wave of public policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison. In addition, because of popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing laws, longer prison stays are being imposed on inmates.
       In some areas lawmakers are experimenting with a range of community punishments that are as effective as incarceration in protecting public safety. These include a mix of community-based programs such as day reporting centers, treatment facilities, electronic monitoring systems and community service. In addition, recidivism rates have proven to be positively impacted through faith-based programs.
       During the next few editions of the North Georgia Advocate we will have the opportunity to highlight the various facets of criminal justice ministry and how each of us can make an impact for Christ in these areas.
         In scripture we read, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord  require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” ~ (Micah 6:8)
     In this journey we will look at the many ways people in our churches and in our conference have extended the grace of God by doing justice, loving mercy and walking with God.
By: Rev.Pat

turn – It’s your’s!

“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” ~ Matthew 25:36

What would it look like if 300 men voluntarily went in to a maximum security prison to be challenged and taught by inmate preachers?

What would it look like for fathers and sons to gather together around a table with convicted felons to talk about God and life?

What would it look like for ‘free’ men to spend the night sleeping in a cell in a former death row cellblock?

Turn Logo

March 23-25, 2012
For two days, inmates are Continue reading

Justice? Mercy? How does the church respond?

In just under two hours Troy Davis is scheduled have his sentence completed in the State of Georgia. Much debate has been promoted through the media, most of it opposing the use of the death penalty. People from all walks of life, ethnicity, and religious backgrounds are weighing in with their thoughts around this particular case. Prayer vigils are being held around the world to try to stop the execution. Clergy, politicians, retired lawmakers, and other dignitaries have been speaking publicly against carrying out the sentence in this case. In the meantime, who is speaking out on behalf of the victim, Mark MacPhail, in this case? It seems that it is only his family.

I am appalled, disgusted, embarrassed, and disappointed in my brothers and sisters in Christ in this moment. The family of Troy Davis needs your support in this time, but why Continue reading

Ministry in the Criminal Justice System

Barbed tape at a prison

Image via Wikipedia

In an effort to develop, publicize and promote support for ministry to people affected by/through the criminal justice system I am writing a series of articles for the UMC newspaper and will also publish on my blog. I would like to ask you if you would take the time to share YOUR story with me. You can do this by simply answering some of the questions below that are relevant to your personal experience and adding your own comments. I will likely need to edit in order to be able to share without revealing personal details and to keep the article appropriate in length and content.

1. What caused you to initially become involved in prison ministry?
2. How long have you been going into jails as a ministry?
3. And, what changes have you seen occur in that period of time? Like changes in the make-up of the jail population, and the way the prisoners are treated?
4. What was the most difficult aspect of that work? What was your greatest challenge?
What was the most rewarding?
5. Did you find that the prison systems in which you worked were hostile or supportive toward Continue reading

Only in America…

Only in America…… can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.

Only in America…… are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink.

Only in America…… do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

“Do not let anyone claim tribute of American patriotism if they even attempt to remove religion from politics.” – George Washington’s Farewell Address to Nation

Only in America…… do people order double cheese burgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

Only in America…. do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters.

Only in America…… do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.

Only in America…… do we use answering machines to screen calls and then have call waiting so we won’t miss a call Continue reading

Friday Night of Hope

For years I have done ministry with people who have been incarcerated, people who have family members that have been incarcerated, and people who have been victimized by people who are now incarcerated. I’ve connected with people in ministry who are trying to break the cycle of crime and are sharing a consistent message and witness of hope. This work has helped me heal from the murder of my brother 15 years ago and has given his death a small measure of meaning for me. Although my involvement has morphed into something much different than it was in the past, I still have a heart for the ministries of justice and mercy. (You can see some free resources for this type of ministry here.)

It seems that the message is being shared by many others and has been received by many more! For this I praise the Lord.  I also know there is much work to be done.

So, for all of you who are practicing the ministry of justice, for those who need the healing that comes from mercy, and for those who are in the place of emptiness, my prayers are with you.

Be inspired and be renewed by this message:

Inmate Football

In the fall of 2008, there was an unusual high school football game played in Grapevine, Texas. The game was between Grapevine Faith Academy and the Gainesville State School. Faith Academy is a Christian school and Gainesville State School is located within a maximum security correction facility.

Gainesville State School has 14 players. They play every game on the road. Their record was 0-8. They have scored only twice. Their 14 players are teenagers who have been convicted of crimes ranging from drugs to assault to robbery. Most had families who had disowned them. They wore outdated, used shoulder pads and helmets. Faith Academy was 7-2. They had 70 players, 11 coaches, and the latest equipment.

Chris Hogan, the head coach at Faith Academy, knew the Gainesville team would have no fans, and it would be no contest. He thought, “What if half of our fans and half of our cheerleaders, for one night only, cheered for the other team?” He sent out an email to the faithful asking them to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send,” Hogan wrote. “You’re just as valuable as any other person on the planet.”
Some folks were confused and thought he was nuts. One player said, “Coach, why are we doing this?” Hogan said, “Imagine you don’t have a home life, no one to love you, no one pulling for you. Imagine that everyone pretty much had given up on you. Now, imagine what it would feel like and mean to you for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you..”

The idea took root. On the night of the game, imagine the surprise of those 14 players when they took the field and there was a banner the cheerleaders had made for them to crash through. The visitors’ stands were full. The cheerleaders were leading cheers for them. The fans were calling them by their names Isaiah, the quarterback-middle linebacker said, “I never in my life thought I would hear parents cheering to tackle and hit their kid. Most of the time, when we come out, people are afraid of us. You can see it in their eyes, but these people are yelling for us. They knew our names.”

Faith won the game, but after the game, both teams gathered at the 50-yard line to pray. That’s when Isaiah, the teenage convict-quarterback surprised everybody and asked if he could pray. He prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what just happened so I don’t know how or who to say thank you to, but I never knew there were so many people in the world that cared about us.” On the way back to the bus, under guard, each one of the players was handed a burger, fries, a coke, candy, a Bible, and an encouraging letter from the players from Faith Academy.