Prison Fellowship Ministries

Prison Fellowship – Addressing Over-Incarceration by Transforming the Justice System Highly Ranked

Lead Organization

Prison Fellowship Ministries

Lansdowne, Virginia, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Currently, 2.2 million people in the United States live behind bars, creating a national crisis of over-incarceration. One in 3 Americans has a criminal record, proving that this affects every neighborhood in the country, while disproportionately discriminating against those who are poor and in communities of color. The U.S. criminal justice system is failing in three fundamental ways: who goes to prison, what people experience in prison, and the barriers they face upon release. Prison Fellowship seeks to transform this fractured system through a multi-pronged, holistic approach to achieve more successful justice system outcomes. By developing rehabilitative communities in prison and empowering transformational corrections leaders, we prepare good citizens who not only demonstrate the ability to live crime-free upon release, but also contribute to their communities at their highest potential. By advancing public awareness and policy campaigns, we decrease over-incarceration and remove unjust barriers for people with a criminal record.

Problem Statement

With 2.2 million men and women behind bars, America’s over-incarceration crisis is unmatched anywhere else in the world. A staggering 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record, proving that this national crisis affects every neighborhood and family around the country. Wave after wave of “tough on crime” legislation has created a fractured system that impacts us all, but disproportionately harms impoverished communities of color due to widespread institutionalized discrimination. The U.S. criminal justice system is failing in three fundamental ways: who goes to prison, what people experience in prison, and the barriers they face upon release. Unjust and excessive sentencing laws and practices force people to remain behind bars for longer periods than ever before. By broadly warehousing human beings, prisons produce ineffective results, costing taxpayers over $80 billion per year. Upon their release, incarcerated individuals are faced with a myriad of barriers, including 44,000 documented legal restrictions, greatly increasing their chance of returning to prison.By ensuring only those who need to go to prison do and for an appropriate amount of time, we can reduce the prison population. Leveraging men and women behind bars as change agents ensures those that were a part of the problem become a powerful source for solutions. In reimagining prisons as centers of excellence and contributors to society, we can create a more restorative environment. By showing communities how they are impacted and providing them opportunities to help, we can eliminate the social stigma of incarceration and the barriers associated with it.

Solution Overview

Through a multi-pronged, holistic approach, our solution tackles this problem at every stage, thus achieving more successful justice system outcomes. Progress is measured for each of its components: - By continuing to advance restorative justice policies, we will increase alternatives to unnecessary incarceration and reduce disproportional jail and prison sentences. - The expansion of our intensive in-prison programming (Prison Fellowship Academy) and transformational leadership program for wardens (Warden Exchange) will create restorative communities in prison, empower transformational leaders, and redefine how we measure success, creating good citizens both inside and outside prison. - Our annual Second Chance Month public awareness campaign and state-level public policy reforms that reduce collateral consequences of criminal conviction will help formerly incarcerated individuals overcome the obstacles they face once they return home. The impact of our national solution spans beyond the boundaries of a prison cell. When we successfully pass sentencing reforms, people are diverted from jail or prison or spend less time languishing behind bars. Incarcerated individuals are deeply and personally impacted by our programming, becoming change agents in their own lives and facilitating culture change within prison communities. Wardens are transformed through our work, shifting the paradigm around correctional leadership from mere custody and control to truly rehabilitative and inclusive environments. Communities outside of prisons are also impacted as men and women return as good citizens, breaking cycles of addiction and crime and are motivated and capable of showcasing their human value and civic contributions free of barriers and restrictions, effectively creating safer communities for all.

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Project Funders

  • The Charles Koch Foundation 2015 - 2018
  • Aimee and Frank Batten Jr. Foundation 2005 - 2019
  • Sea Foam Sales Co. 1993 - 2018

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