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Opinion: Rehabilitation Through Spirituality and Faith—Why Isn’t the Prison and Reentry Reform Movement Focused on the Capacity Building of Responsive and Compelling Change Agents?

Berkley Forum

By Caterina Roman and John K. Roman

Since the origins of penitentiaries in Europe and America in the 1700s, individuals affiliated with religious institutions have been providing care and support for incarcerated and released prisoners. Fortunately, we have moved past the thinking of the original Quaker penal regimes which held that solitude and silence could bring about spiritual conversion such that dishonest men and women would become virtuous (e.g., rehabilitated). Unfortunately, policymakers and criminal justice stakeholders have not taken advantage of the broader and more nuanced role that faith and spirituality can play for many in offender rehabilitation.

The momentum of mass incarceration has slowed, but the pervasive collateral consequences of incarceration remain unabated—the human toll withstood by those incarcerated and their families, the damage to already marginalized communities, and the skyrocketing public costs of incapacitation. We suggest that policymakers and stakeholders forge creative partnerships to leverage the extraordinary human capital available through faith-based organizations and spirituality-based programming. We propose this not on a foundation of faith, but rather as a reflection on rigorous, transparent, and objective science.

In the United States, thousands of faith-based or spiritually-led programs provide a range of services to individuals in prisons, jails, and returning to their communities that leverage evidence-based practices. However, the majority of these programs offer stand-alone services that are not linked to state, local, or federal criminal justice agencies or comprehensive reentry programs. This creates a disorganized system of individual supports that is misaligned with best practices, which includes coordinating care as a critical element.

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