The Keys To Freedom

I'll never forget the first time I visited Humaita, the Brazilian prison run by Prison Fellowship. Instead of the usual sullenness, I saw smiles on the faces of men -- men at peace with themselves, with others, and with God. It was the kind of place where a convicted murderer could be trusted with the keys to the gates. The difference between Humaita and other prisons went beyond the prison walls. I was told that the men released from Humaita re-offended at a much lower rate than those released from other Brazilian prisons -- five percent, according to our ministry records. The reports are so good that many distrusted our claims. Well, now the proof is in hand. Dr. Byron Johnson, an eminent social scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, studied two sets of prisoners released from Brazilian prisons. The first group were from Humaita. The second group came from the Braganca facility. Operated by a nonprofit group, Braganca, which was once among the most violent and corrupt prisons in Brazil, now represents the best that a humane, progressive, but secular, facility can do. After compiling the data and making sure he was comparing similar populations, Dr. Johnson published his findings in the Texas Journal of Corrections, a report we now have in hand. What he found is a vindication of what nearly thirty years of prison ministry has taught me about what works. While both prisons had recidivism rates below Brazil's national average of fifty to seventy percent, that's where the comparison ends. Humaita's rates are significantly lower than the model secular prison's. Among low-risk offenders, for example, Humaita had a twenty-one percent recidivism rate over three years, compared to thirty-six percent for Braganca. The results are even more impressive among "high-risk offenders." Only twelve percent of those released over three years from Humaita were re-arrested, compared to thirty-eight percent for Braganca. In short, Humaita inmates re-offended at a rate nearly eighty percent less than other prisoners in Brazil and fifty-five percent less than prisoners from the best secular prison in the country. That figure is exactly as we said it: five percent per year. And there's no reason not to expect similar results in the United States. Studies are underway now in the prison we opened just five years ago in Texas with the support of then-Governor George Bush. We also operate prisons in Iowa and Kansas. It's hard to imagine a better example of the evidence that faith in Christ can make, both in the lives of individuals and in culture. In both cases -- prison and culture -- we have a tendency to label problems "insurmountable" because the prevailing worldview keeps us from considering the true answers. That's why we need to let our neighbors know about studies like this one. It proves what we know by faith, and we need to let Congress know, as well. Senators are debating today whether we should force Christian groups to hire anyone -- the unbelievers or those living an unbiblical lifestyle. But if you take away the faith aspect, you lose the good results. Congress can't have it both ways. Let Christian groups do their job. The evidence is in. It proves that faith makes the difference.   Take action: Urge your senators to support S. 1924, the CARE Act. To contact your U.S. senators, call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to connect to your state's senators' offices. Senate directory For further reading: Byron R. Johnson, "Assessing the Impact of Religious Programs and Prison Industry on Recidivism: An Exploratory Study," Texas Journal of Corrections 28, no. 1 (February 2002): 7-11. Charles W. Colson, "God and Caesar: Does Religion Belong in Public Life?", speech delivered to members of the Detroit Economic Club, The Cobo Center, Detroit, Michigan, 13 November 2000. Joseph Loconte, God, Government, and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and Peril of the President's Faith-Based Agenda (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, October 2001).


Chuck Colson


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