Greyhound Justice

People have said, only half jokingly, that the job of the United States Marines is to kill people and break things. As a former Marine, I can vouch for that. But it's also true that the Marines uphold a strict moral code and live by ironclad discipline. Now imagine a force more than three times the size of the United States Marines Corps -- 650,000 young men -- trained to kill people and break things, but lacking any kind of moral code or discipline. What would happen if they were unleashed on communities all over America? We're about to find out. This year, that number of men -- 650,000 -- will be released from America's prisons -- more than 1,700 a day. And I can tell you from experience that these people are not ready for life on the outside. The statistics bear this out. The Department of Justice estimates that two-thirds of all men who are released from prison will be re-arrested within three years. It's a tragic testimony to the failure of the utopian idea of rehabilitation. The problem is that no government can give offenders what they need most: motivation to change internally and a support network to help them once they leave prison behind. This fact was recently recognized by Eli Lehrer, senior editor at American Enterprise. In the magazine the Weekly Standard, Lehrer notes, "All around America, just-released thugs step off of Greyhound buses and pick up their criminal careers where they left off." Factor in the fact that incarceration rates have more than tripled during the last twenty years, Lehrer says, and we can expect to see "a growing number of released prisoners in the decade ahead" -- prisoners who have learned little more in prison than how to kill people and break things more efficiently. What to do about it? Social Scientist Mark Byron says all the evidence points to the fact that recidivism is greatly reduced when aftercare is in place. But the parole system, such as it is, is vastly overtaxed. What's needed, you see, is the kind of faith-based programs Prison Fellowship offers. Our InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) does what government programs fail to do: It prepares prisoners for life outside prison bars. We run these prisons in four different states. Inmates, all volunteers for the program, are taught respect for God's laws and the rights of others. They're kept working hard all day long: no television, no goofing off. So far, the results have been dramatic: Instead of two-thirds reoffending, IFI recidivism rates average below ten percent. The key to IFI's success is Jesus Christ in the heart and church volunteers who work with the inmates for the first six months after their release -- helping them find homes, jobs, and a church family. Our criminal justice policies have been woefully shortsighted. The only real hope is for the Church to come alongside those returning to society -- in effect, to meet them at the Greyhound bus stop and give them what they desperately need: jobs, accountability, and the love of Christ. Ninety percent of all inmates will eventually get out of prison. If we don't help them, an army of inmates three times the size of the Marines will be back on our streets -- ready to kill people and break things without remorse. For further information: Learn more about InnerChange Freedom Initiative at its website, or call 918-747-2932, or write: 3807 GH S. Peoria #315, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74105. Justice Fellowship is the Wilberforce Forum's initiative on criminal justice reform. You can subscribe to the FREE "Justice eReport" by sending an e-mail to with "subscribe" in the subject line. Patrick A. Langan, Ph.D., and David J. Levin, Ph.D., "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2002. (Requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader.) Eli Lehrer, "Free at Last," Weekly Standard, 9 September 2002 (available to subscribers only). Eli Lehrer, "Crime Doesn't Count," National Review Online, 12 November 2001. BreakPoint commentary no. 020417, "The Keys to Freedom: Humaita and the Power of Christ." "Brazil Closes Huge Prison Notorious for its Violence and Squalor," New York Times, 15 September 2002. Charles Colson, Justice that Restores (Tyndale, 2001).


Chuck Colson


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