Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Risk of Returning to Prison: What Should We Really Focus On?

The following  blog post from Prison Fellowship volunteer, Becky Beane is so full of good information I had to share it. Often it's difficult to understand why prisoners re-offend especially when they have suffered so much from being incarcerated. Becky offers keen insight.

What makes prisoners more likely to re-offend when they get out of prison? Is it the lack of a job? Hanging around with friends from the “old neighborhood”? Low self-esteem?

Quite a bit of research has been done to identify criminogenic needs—a tongue-twister of a phrase that refers to major risk factors highly associated with criminal conduct. Researchers consistently list these major risk factors:

  • • Antisocial values and beliefs (criminal thinking)
  • • Antisocial peers
  • • Personality traits
  • • Family dysfunction
  • • Low self-control
  • • Substance abuse

Let’s look at each factor in more detail. Then we will consider how Prison Fellowship volunteers help address these needs.

Antisocial Values and Beliefs

Offenders generally exhibit certain thinking errors that affect how they interpret and process information. These errors include a sense of entitlement, self-justification, blaming others, unrealistic perceptions of reality, and taking on a “victim stance” (for example, “the system is out to get me”). They often misinterpret benign behaviors or harmless remarks as threats (“he disrespected me”). They confuse wants with needs.

Antisocial Peers

Associating primarily with friends involved in criminal behavior puts one at high risk of sharing in that behavior. Over time, the offender loses contact with “pro-social” people, and then has no social support network to help reinforce appropriate behaviors. In fact, research indicates that a person’s companions may actually be the greatest predictor of criminal behavior. However, offenders often deny the influence of others on their lives, as that would threaten their sense of autonomy. They fancy themselves as leaders, not followers.

Personality Traits

Some offenders have what could be legitimately diagnosed as an antisocial personality disorder, characterized by a “pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.” They are habitually deceitful, irresponsible, aggressive and violent, impulsive; they fail to conform to social norms and laws, show reckless disregard for others’ safety, and experience little or no remorse for their mistreatment of others. Any of these traits can steer a person toward criminal conduct.

Family Dysfunction

People first learn attitudes, values, and behaviors within the context of the family. Broken families, abusive or neglectful relationships, permissiveness, family members involved in drug or alcohol abuse or criminal activities—these and other unhealthy family factors typically contribute to individuals’ negative, harmful ways of thinking and acting.

Low Self-Control

Repeat offenders often engage in impulsive, risk-taking behavior. People with low self-control are easily persuaded by situational and environmental factors. If they lack healthy attachments (to positive friends, family, employment, etc.), there is little to constrain them from risky or criminal behavior.

Substance Abuse

The risk of criminal behavior rises with the degree of dependency on drugs and level of use. Some are true addicts; others are “dabblers,” whose use of drugs may be related more to opportunity than to compulsion. Still others are in-between.

Factors NOT Heightening the Risk of Recidivism

Equally important is being aware of the factors not included in the list of criminogenic factors—which means these factors donot generally predict a high risk of returning to crime:

  • • Low self-esteem
  • • Mental-health issues
  • • Low education status
  • • Lack of employment options

Interestingly, these are the kind of factors that many reentry programs target. Certainly any of these areas can cause a strain on a person’s life and relationships. But if programs and support networks focus only on these issues without addressing the criminogenic needs, research shows they will have little effect on recidivism. Getting a job, for example, is essential for an ex-prisoner to take care of his family and become a productive, contributing member of society. But if his antisocial, self-centered attitudes stir up conflicts with his employer and other workers, he’ll soon be kicked to the curb.

Inner Transformation

Prison Fellowship introduces prisoners to the One who can truly make them into new creations—the Lord Jesus Christ. Our programs focus on helping them gain new attitudes and values based on Christ’s life and teachings. Roman 12:2 tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and this comes through consistently studying God’s Word and exploring how it applies to all of the contexts of our lives. We have found that many Christian prisoners may have a wealth of Bible knowledge but little wisdom in how to apply it. Prison Fellowship works on that with them.

Comprehensive Networks

Prison Fellowship is developing strategic networks of organizations and agencies that can effectively address clusters of criminogenic and non-criminogenic (but still important) needs. These collaborative efforts allow us to serve the whole person by identifying the range of needs and developing comprehensive plans to provide effective resources. For example, one organization in the network might provide substance-abuse treatment; another might offer reentry employment services that focus on employee attitudes as well as job contacts; churches can provide a positive social network (to replace antisocial friends) as well as spiritual nurture. One report by University of Cincinnati researchers said “programs that target at least four to six criminogenic needs can reduce recidivism by 30 percent.”


Perhaps the greatest human resource to help a returning prisoner succeed is a mature and positive mentor (or group of mentors)—a friend, coach, guide, and role model to counter the influence of antisocial peers and illicit temptations. A Florida ex-prisoner named Twain, with a history of drug addiction, leaned upon his mentors when drug cravings slammed against his resolve to stay straight. One day while driving to pick up supplies for a home repair job, a fleck of drywall on his truck seat reminded him of a rock of crack cocaine. Instantly he was on the phone to one of his mentors, who helped him resist the temptation to “go get high.”

Through their interactions, mentors help ex-prisoners develop good decision-making and problem-solving skills. Mentors also help expand ex-prisoners’ positive social network by introducing them to friends and a church family, getting them involved in more pro-social activities.
Dinner served at Hope Aglow Fellowship 

Church Family

Through its partnership with thousands of churches across the U.S., Prison Fellowship helps connect returning prisoners and their families with a caring congregation that will welcome and support them—not only through the tough transitional stage from prison to community, but also for the “long haul” of their ongoing spiritual journey. A church family provides ex-prisoners with a positive support system and opportunities for continued growth in their faith and character. Just as important, it gives ex-prisoners valued opportunities to serve others in positive ways through the ministry of the church.

Copyright © 2011 Prison Fellowship
By Becky Beane

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The struggle to find work after prison

While it's hard these days for everyone to get that paycheck, it's much harder for those who have spent time behind bars.
"Being in prison changes people.  You can either come out and be a better man or you can be worse," said David Davis who spent 20 months in prison.
He now works as a floor employee at PreServe Services in Danville.
"I've got two sons that I help take care of, and I help take care of my mother and, you know, I need to be able to provide for my family," said Davis.
Florence Jones-Via recruits employees at PreServe Services, a company that isn't shy about hiring those with a rough past.  Many of the employees at PreServe have a history of being incarcerated.
Jones-Via knows what they have gone through.  She struggled to find work after prison.
"Then, I went to another company that hired me, but in the midst of my training, their policy changed so ex-offenders were no longer welcome in their business," said Jones-Via.
But she says PreServe helped give her a new life.
"I'm also working with the ex-offenders to show them that there's hope after prison, so there is life," said Jones-Via.
"Anything that's not great in your past, whether it's going to prison, you want to state that I take responsibility for what I've done, I've learned from it and now I've moved forward," said Petrina Carter, director of Averett University's Career Services.
Experts say when applying for jobs, it's imperative to show employers that you've changed.  A resume is the perfect document to showcase all that's good about you.
"The resume is a highlight of the things you've done in your life.  So you want to highlight those things that are great and spectacular about you," said Carter.
And those who have been there say confidence is a must.
"You're going to find something sooner or later, just keep your head up.  Always walk in looking professional and keep a smile on your face," said Davis.
Experts say lying on a resume or application is far worse than being honest about your past.  Employers would much rather someone tell them the truth than hire a liar.

Resources for Career Opportunities

Friday, October 14, 2011

Our House or the Big House? It’s Parents or Prisons

For a hauntingly large number of young Americans, prison has become a substitute for parents. Writing in Policy Review, Jennifer Roback Morse argued just a few years ago that this “apparent overstatement” is sustained by two realities. As she explains:
First, without parents — two of them, married to each other, working together as a team — a child is more likely to end up in the criminal justice system at some point in his life. Without parents, prison becomes a greater probability in the child’s life. Second, if a child finds himself in the criminal justice system, either in his youth or adulthood, the prison will perform the parental function of supervising and controlling that person’s behavior.
The statistics do tell the story. Young males raised without fathers are far more likely than their peers to be involved in anti-social behavior and far more likely to spend time in prison. For some of these young men, prison is the first place they meet an authority they cannot manipulate, a voice they cannot defy, and a consequence they cannot avoid.
     Morse asserts that most people in prison are there because they did not learn self-control, personal responsibility, and the necessity of following rules. To this list we can add the fact that these young people did not learn (or did not learn adequately) how to respect authority and understand the consequences of their behaviors.
“A free society needs people with consciences,” Morse argues. These are people who obey the laws voluntarily. Without a majority of such citizens, a society soon disintegrates. Writ large, this means the death of nations. On a smaller scale, this explains the disastrous breakdown of order in some neighborhoods.
When parents fail to inculcate these values and commitments in their offspring (or when parents are not present), the children are headed for big trouble. Many will end up in the criminal justice system. An amazingly large number find themselves in juvenile courts even before they reach adulthood. Nevertheless, prisons are not an adequate substitute for parents.
As Morse explains:
Of course, prison is a pathetic substitute for genuine parents. Incarceration provides extreme, tightly controlled supervision that children typically outgrow in their toddler years and does so with none of the love and affection that characterize normal parental care of small children. But that is what is happening: The person has failed to internalize the self-command necessary for living in a reasonably free and open society at the age most people do. Since he cannot control himself, someone else must control him. If he becomes too much for his parents, the criminal justice system takes over.
These necessary societal interventions do not repair the loss the child has sustained by the loss of a relationship with his parents. By the time the penal system steps in, the state is engaged in damage control. A child without a conscience, a child without self-control, is a lifelong problem for the rest of society.
Families are best suited to fulfill this role. As a matter of fact, parents can do what no institutionalized authority can do, and that is to nurture and discipline their children within the relationship of love and trust.
The basic self-control and reciprocity that a free society takes for granted do not develop automatically. Conscience development takes place in childhood. Children need to develop empathy so they will care whether they hurt someone or whether they treat others fairly. They need to develop self-control so they can follow through on these impulses and do the right thing even if it might benefit them to do otherwise.
All this development takes place inside the family. Children attach to the rest of the human race through their first relationships with their parents. They learn reciprocity, trust, and empathy from these primal relationships. Disrupting those foundational relations has a major negative impact on children as well as on the people around them. In particular, children of single parents — or completely absent parents — are more likely to commit crimes.
Jennifer Roback Morse is so very right when she explains that “a family is a little society.” Indeed, that little society is the most important context for so much of what the larger society depends upon. When parents and families fail in the task of preparing the young for the responsibilities of life, other authorities step in. None of these is up to the task. This phenomenon explains why the public schools are now asked to raise many children, as well as to educate them.
Tragically, many of these young people — especially young males — will end up in prison. In this context they will confront what has been missing in their lives, but even as prison may be a form of reality therapy for these teenagers and young adults, the prison cannot make up for missing or inattentive parents.
When you consider the importance of the family — of intact families with both mother and father in the home — consider this choice. It so often comes down to parents or prisons.
- Albert Mohler, Jr.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Content Copyright © 2002-2011, R. Albert Mohler, Jr.