Home for Good in Oregon: A Community, Faith and State Re-Entry Partnership to Increase Restorative Justice

Article excerpt

Faith-based prison initiatives, from the White House down, are the subject of considerable public attention and heated debate. Some people truly believe, others are skeptical and some are just curious about the potential power of faith-based programs to change lives. Still others are deeply concerned that such programs will lead to an unconstitutional blurring of church and state boundaries or to the establishment of religion (i.e., favoring religious people over nonreligious people or those of one faith over another). (1) And while the debate rages on, 650,000 inmates are being released each year back to America's communities.

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Historically, religion has played an important but changing role in the criminal justice system and is undergoing yet another period of evaluation and adjustment as the corrections field responds to several new religious and cultural trends in the United States. (2) These trends include: an emerging differentiation of spirituality from religion, an increasing diversity of religious practice in the United States, a growing body of research into the impact of religion on offenders (3) and a political openness to an increased role for faith-based programs in government efforts to solve social and budget problems. Recognizing the reality of these religious and social developments, Religious Services, which is based in the Transitional Services Division of the Oregon Department of Corrections, set out to develop a statewide community and faith-based re-entry program that would appropriately address constitutional concerns by not favoring any particular religion and by valuing the unique and distinct roles of church and state in preventing crime and fostering justice. The result is the Home for Good project.

Several years ago, the Oregon DOC articulated and began to implement a six-part model of best correctional practices called the Oregon Accountability Model (OAM), which emphasizes:

* The systematic assessment of criminogenic risk, need and responsivity factors, and the development of a correctional plan to address those factors for all inmates entering Oregon's prison system;

* Positive staff-inmate interactions at all levels of the incarceration/release process that enhance offender motivation for change and role-model pro-social behaviors;

* A system of evidence-based work and treatment programs that make an individual's incarceration experience both meaningful and corrective;

* The importance of working with the children and families of inmates in order to break the intergenerational cycle of crime;

* Re-entry preparation and planning from the first day of incarceration; and

* A seamless transition of inmates to the DOC's community corrections partners in each of Oregon's 36 counties, which enables offenders to continue working on their correctional plans and be successful in the community.

The Religious Services team of 26 full-time chaplains, volunteer program staff and support staff worked to support and foster OAM. However, the team knew that inmates needed help to continue developing their spirituality beyond the period of incarceration, and they knew that the churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., of Oregon would help in that process. As a result, Religious Services shifted one of its chaplain positions from a focus on the prisons to a focus on the community, and hired Oregon's first full-time re-entry chaplain. During the past 18 months, this chaplain's work in the community has allowed the Religious Services team to realize a long-term dream--the creation of a statewide community and faith-based re-entry project that provides a new focus on the re-entry component of OAM.

The Starting Point: Religion And Spirituality in Oregon's Prisons

Paid state chaplains, and volunteer and support staff, along with more than 1,300 volunteers from a wide variety of religious traditions, facilitate an array of faith-based, in prison services in a manner that has consistently been upheld by both state and federal courts to be constitutional. …