There are many facets open for volunteer service in prison ministry. A quick inventory of your interests, concerns, and spiritual gifts will help to determine how you can best serve.
o With the prisoner.
1. Go to the Prisoner: Visitation. One on one contact with prisoners opens the door for the life-changing message of Christ.
2. Chapel Services and Sunday Worship Services provide ministry team opportunities.
3. Bible studies, evangelism and discipleship training provide opportunities for teaching and mentoring.
4. Through Correspondence
Pen Pals and Correspondence Bible Studies
o Prisoners are usually separated by age and sex
1. Youth Offenders (Juvenile)
Delinquents are thought of as children who have gone astray and need gentle correction to get them back on tract to becoming productive adult citizens.
Youthful offenders may be criminals but they still posses that spark of innocence that through the gospel can be molded into the image of God.
2. Women Offenders
Approximately one fourth of the women entering prison are pregnant or have recently given birth. One of the main priorities in the rehabilitation of women inmates is to help them overcome the effects of their battered pasts. Develop ministries for battered wives.
3. Men Offenders
The largest group of inmates populating our prisons today is adult men. Offences may vary from drug related arrests, misdemeanors, violent crimes and other felonies. The prisoner may be a first offender or a hardened criminal.
The greatest challenge for the prison volunteer who works in the federal prison system is to help the inmate discover hope in a situation where a person will grow old and die behind bars.
Gospel ministry behind prison walls provides an opportunity for communicating the message of Christ and hope to the inmate. It is usually best to try to minister to those of your own gender, women with women and youth and men with men and youth.
o With the family of prisoners. (Spouse, Children, Parents).
The majority of inmates who fail when they return to the street and re-enter a life of crime are those who lack family support. Speak up for the accused (in court etc). Establish a prayer ministry for the inmate and the families of offenders and ex-offenders.
o Become involved in After Care Programs. (Half way houses for ex-offenders and those on parole). You may feel led to work in one of the many aftercare ministries for ex offenders.
Local, state and federal facilities have many excellent programs designed to heal the physical and emotional hurts of family members. The church or you as a mentor can come alongside the released prisoner to help them overcome the many obstacles they face. In order to be more effective in ministering to the prison community we should expand our understanding of the correctional process.
o Prison Reform. The Criminal Justice System is a victim of misconceived ideals and shortsighted policies. Possibly the greatest hazard to people working with criminals is rapid burnout of enthusiasm, commitment, and interest. Become an advocate for change.
1. Goals for prison reform (vs. new prisons)
Explore Alternatives to incarceration
Break the cycle of incarceration
Reduce racial disparity
Identify behaviors being defined as criminal
2. Help released prisoners overcome:
Barriers to employment
Barriers to housing
Treatment for substance abuse
Treatment for mental illness and other medical problems
o The history of prisons in the United States reflects change and frequent paradigm shifts. Public opinion is a strong element in our country’s approach to corrections. Current budget limitations are creating a hard and serious look at the consequences of recent legislation.
o Restorative Justice.
Look into programs designed to address the concerns and rights of the victims of crime. (Note: local need for help in the district attorney’s office).
o Promote Alternatives to Incarceration:
Half way houses
Community Service Crews
Day Reporting Centers
o Community Awareness. Spread the Vision for Prison Ministry.
(Through the church and other agencies).
o Drug Education. Drugs deaden the criminal’s consciences, give them courage, and help them avoid worry about the consequences of their crimes. Drug education programs provide help to youth and adults. Their emphasis is on avoiding enslavement to drugs and in recovering from the bondage of addiction. Offer plans for proactive prevention and positive restoration.
o Giving (Financially to support Prison ministries, and give of your time in service and in developing relationships).
The Criminal Justice System
In order to be more effective in ministering to the prison community we should expand our understanding of the correctional process. The Criminal Justice System operates at three levels:
Federal, State, and local: The system is made up of three divisions: law enforcement, courts, and corrections.
The process of the Criminal Justice System includes: arrest, booking, arraignment, and a preliminary hearing.
In large population areas you may find several classifications of correctional facilities.
o City jail.
o County jails.
o Juvenile facilities.
o State Prisons.
o Federal Prisons.
Each of these facilities is operated by different government agencies and serves a different and unique roll in the field of corrections.
The warden’s greatest worry is that volunteers will compromise security. For this reason it is important that we have an understanding of the laws and policies relating to association with inmates. Each facility will have policies that volunteer staff will be expected to follow. These suggestions will help you meet these expectations:
1. Do not give anything to an inmate and do not take anything from an inmate.
2. Learn to say “No”.
3. Dress and conduct yourself in an appropriate manner.
4. Obey the instructions and orders given by the staff. The correctional staff is often suspicious of volunteers. They may see you as a “do-gooder”. Many correctional institutions have seen a history of on again, off again religious programs. Be ready to ask informational questions.
5. For scheduled Chapel Services or Bible Classes, arrive early, start and end on time.
6. Be patient and courteous.
7. Do not give personal information to the inmates.
8. Avoid personal contact with inmate’s families unless given permission to do so by the staff.
9. Do not take anything into the institution that you do not need.