Inmates became more forgiving, responsible, grateful and able to restrain themselves after taking an eight-week Bible study on the gospel of Mark, according to a study recently released by Prison Fellowship International (PFI) and Baylor University.
The course “The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ)” also helped reduce depression, anxiety and anger among those enrolled, thereby reducing drug abuse and fighting, according to initial results from the first phase of the course. study carried out in prisons in South Africa and Colombia. .
Southern Baptist seminaries have a long history of offering Bible degrees to prison populations, for 20 years with the flagship program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Graduates become ministers among their fellow inmates.
Jody dean, NOBTS Associate Senior Regional Dean for Extension Centers, said such programs are part of the seminar’s mission.
âAs you unpack our mission statement, the prison programs clearly align with our mission of those called to walk with Christ to help them prepare to speak his truth and accomplish His mission,â Dean said. âAnd we see them doing this as they begin to teach the Word, share the truth, and share Christ with those around them. “
Baylor and PFI released the first results on October 20 after conducting the 40-month study that ended in April, revealing varying degrees of change among prison populations based on variables such as their relationship with God before s ‘enroll in Bible study, and whether they were motivated by a sincere desire for change or a selfish desire for eventual early release from prison.
In Colombia, researchers compared 217 prisoners engaged in the Bible study with the results of 217 prisoners not enrolled in the Bible study.
âIn Colombia, we found that inmates who completed the Bible study (TPJ group) increased their religious involvement,â the researchers said, with participants ranking near a negative of 0.10 before the study of the Bible and going to a positive 0.60 after studying the Bible on researchers. religiosity scale, but the researchers did not cite specific numerical findings. “In contrast, there was no significant change among those who did not participate in the program (control group).”
Of the 437 inmates who completed Bible study in South Africa, compared to a control group of 125, the researchers said their findings “confirmed the importance of religious engagement in transforming inmates through the development of prosocial changes in personal identity and moral character. . Specifically, increased religiosity contributed to transformations in an inmate’s cognitive and emotional identity as well as the virtues of forgiveness, empathy and self-control, which in turn reduced negative emotional states. of the inmate. Additionally, TPJ reduced the risk of misconduct in prison both directly and indirectly by encouraging gratitude among participating inmates. “
The researchers did not reveal any numerical results among the South African participants, but the researchers hope to expand the study to include additional prison populations.
Byron johnson, founding director of the Baylor Institute for Religious Studies, said research shows the importance of faith-based prison reform.
âPrograms like TPJ provide empirical validation of the reality that much of the truly innovative work done on behalf of prison reform comes from faith-based programs run by organizations like Prison Fellowship International,â Johnson said. âThese remarkable programs – led by faith-motivated volunteers – do a lot to transform individuals and prisons around the world. I hate to think of where we would be without these ministries that are dedicated to serving the least of them. “
More than 460,000 prisoners have taken the course organized by PFI in prisons in 39 countries, including Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.
PFI stands as having worked since 1979 to transform prison populations with the power of the gospel, hoping to involve 20% of the world’s prison population with the TPJ Bible study. Every year, 15 million people around the world are imprisoned, PFI said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is the senior editor of Baptist Press.)