An Exodus in Search of A Moses

A year ago, Jean Sanders was released from the Gowanda Correctional Facility in upstate New York. He had lots of company. This year, 630,000 offenders will be released from American prisons. That's more than 1,700 a day!   The January 28 issue of Time magazine profiled Sanders and his struggle to adjust to life outside of prison. Sanders is part of the largest "prison exodus" in history. Four times as many prisoners will be released this year as were released only twenty years ago.   And I can tell you from experience that the men and women being released are no more ready for life outside of prison than they were in 1980.   The statistics bear that out. The Department of Justice estimates that two-thirds of all men who are released from prison will be re-arrested within three years. And more than forty percent of all those released will return to prison within that same time period.   If anything, the odds are even worse for offenders with drug and alcohol problems like Sanders, who, so far, happily is still outside of prison.   Numbers like these testify to the failure of the utopian idea of rehabilitation. The problem isn't a lack of money or better government organization. It's that no government program can give offenders like Sanders what they need most: Motivation to change and a support network to help them.       In other words, they need what groups like Prison Fellowship are offering. This isn't only my opinion. A study released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that religion "has a proven track record on rehabilitating drug users." The center, headed by former Health and Human Services Secretary Joseph Califano, also found that religious conversion is the key factor in successfully breaking drug and alcohol addictions.   The impact of groups like Prison Fellowship isn't limited to offenders with drug problems. Our InnerChange Freedom Initiative, or IFI, does what government programs failed to do for people like Jean Sanders: prepare them for life outside of prison.   IFI is a prison within a prison -- actually, a Christian prison we run. The programming, which begins eighteen to twenty-four months before release, fosters respect for God's law and the rights of others. It progressively encourages the spiritual and moral development of prisoners. So far, the results have been dramatic: Recidivism rates below ten percent.   And what's true inside prison walls is also true outside of them. So-called "hard cases," people who government and secular social-service agencies had given up on, have turned their lives around thanks to the efforts of faith-based groups and the power of Christ in their lives.   And even more could be helped if Americans appreciated the role of faith-based programs. That's what makes the president's Faith-Based Initiative, which highlights the work of groups like Prison Fellowship, so important. It's not a matter of money. It's a matter of helping Americans understand what government can and cannot do.   It's a matter of creating an environment where people can get the help they really need without being impeded by ideas and bureaucracies that have failed us time and time again -- a failure we couldn't afford twenty years ago, and can afford even less today.     For more information: Stephanie Casler, "Anti-drug role by U.S. clergy urged," Washington Times, 15 November 2001.   Amanda Ripley, "Living on the Outside," Time, 28 January 2002.   Charles W. Colson, "America's Way is to Help Thy Neighbor," Los Angeles Times.   Justice Fellowship, "Beyond Crime and Punishment: A Biblical View of Justice."          


Chuck Colson


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