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Counting the cost

Oct. 4, 2013

Counting the cost

Faith-based re-entry program for prisoners saves money, reduces recidivism

A faith-based prisoner re-entry program in Minnesota has saved an estimated $3 million by reducing recidivism, according to a Baylor University study published in the International Journal of Criminology and Sociology.

The study is a cost-benefit analysis of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a program that relies heavily on volunteers and is privately funded, said Dr. Byron Johnson, study co-author and co-director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR).

"The InnerChange program is a boon to taxpayers. It doesn't rely on public funding. Yet, at the same time, it provides a benefit by reducing recidivism, which results in fewer costs associated with crime," said Dr. Grant Duwe, lead author, research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and a non-resident scholar of Baylor's ISR.

In the debate over whether and how faith-based groups can be effective in working with government and secular entities to confront social ills, "this kind of research will be called for by policymakers," Johnson said. "It just makes sense. Taxpayers want to know whether programs work -- especially when religion is involved."

The cost-benefit analysis followed up on a 2012 study that compared recidivism outcomes among 732 offenders released from Minnesota prisons between 2003-09. In that study, the results showed that InnerChange reduced re-arrest by 26 percent, re-conviction by 35 percent and re-imprisonment for a new felony offense by 40 percent.

Duwe and Johnson studied post-release employment and recidivism outcomes to estimate InnerChange's financial impact on state income tax contributions, victimization costs, criminal justice system costs and lost productivity of prisoners. They found that the program produced a benefit of nearly $8,300 per participant.

InnerChange includes Christian religious services, Bible study and prayer, substance abuse education, cognitive skill development, mentoring and seminars, as well as aftercare involving support groups, peer mentoring, interaction with volunteers and individual counseling. The program lasts 18 months in prison, followed by a year-long reentry phase.

The nation's first InnerChange program -- launched in 1997 for men in Carol S. Vance Unit near Houston -- was a joint venture by Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship and Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Currently, the country has eight InnerChange programs operating in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas.

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