Helping prisoners adjust to life on the outside offers hope for reducing America’s burgeoning prison population.

What country has more of its citizens per capita behind bars than any other nation in the world? The dubious distinction now belongs to the United States. For years the U.S. ran third in per-capita prison population, behind South Africa and the Soviet Union. But a study released earlier this year by The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., think tank, shows the U.S. now has an incarceration rate of 426 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, ahead of the proverbially oppressive South Africa (at 333) and the Soviet Union (at 268). In all, slightly over 1 million Americans are held in federal, state, and local facilities, and the number is growing.

Faced with such overwhelming numbers, correctional officials have grown desperate for any ideas that offer relief to the problems of crime and overcrowded prisons. Some government officials and Christian leaders agree that a growing trend toward community involvement in prison ministry offers new hope for lasting solutions.

Repeat Offenders

One of the most troubling aspects of America’s prison problem is the rate at which offenders return. Fifty-five percent of them commit another crime within the first week after their release. Eventually almost 8 out of 10 return to prison. And they return to a prison system that Federal Bureau of Prisons director J. Michael Quinlin admits is operating at 160 percent of its capacity and is jailing convicts faster than new prison cells can be built.

Money won’t solve the problem, nor will tougher and longer sentences, Quinlin admitted at the National Jail and Prison Ministries Conference, held last month at Wheaton College in Illinois. “The critical ...

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