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A long-awaited University of Pennsylvania study gives high marks to Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Texas.

The study was unveiled at a meeting yesterday with President George W. Bush, who sponsored the program as Governor of Texas. During the roundtable meeting, the president made a beeline to hug Robert Sutton, a convicted murderer who is now working for InnerChange. The then-governor and the inmate made controversial headlines in Texas with their first hug. In praising the prisoner program, the president showed no bashfulness from that experience. Sutton exclaimed, "It is amazing to me that President Bush kissed me on the cheek."

According to the PF-funded study, only 8 percent of the inmates who complete the full 22-month program of religious instruction, mentoring, and vocational training return to prison within two years of their release. A comparison group without the program had a 20 percent recidivism rate.

Criminologist Byron Johnson directed the six-year study. "The results are incredibly positive," Johnson told CT. The researcher also pointed out that the interviews indicated a progressive strengthening of the inmates spirituality and outlook on life that was particularly strengthened by the involvement by InnerChange mentors.

Bernard Veal, an ex-inmate now living in Houston, Texas, said that InnerChange "is more than a program—it is a way of life. There in prison, I got up for 5:30 a.m. prayer. Today, there is 5:30 a.m. prayer in my life."

However, the study notes that InnerChange—like many demanding inmate rehab programs—experiences a high dropout rate: 58 percent. Still, other criminologists told CT InnerChange's recidivism rate for prisoners who finished the program is impressive.

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June 2003

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