Criminal Rehabilitation: The Impact of Religious Programming

Article excerpt

In spite of their prevalence in correctional institutions, religious programs have been the subject of limited independent assessment. The purpose of the current study was to examine the outcomes of the Kairos Short Course, a Christian religious course offered to prison inmates that aims to engage participants in examination and meditation on their experiences, as well as the fostering of skills such as forgiveness and empathie responsiveness. A sample of 38 inmates (20 assigned to attend the Kairos Short Course and 18 serving as a waiting-list comparison) at a medium security prison participated in the evaluation and were assessed prior to and following completion of the Course on measures of criminal thinking, empathy, self reflection, treatment readiness, and forgiveness of self and others. No clear evidence of change on any of these measures was found. These results are of interest in the context of the growing need for service providers to demonstrate that their programs are evidence-based and contribute to the community safety goals of most correctional agencies. It is concluded that such results should temper some of the more enthusiastic claims of some providers of religious programs to prisoners that such programs are successful in rehabilitating large numbers of offenders.

Many members of the community hold strong views about what should happen to those who break the law, act in ways that hurt or harm others, or are antisocial in other respects. Often our views on what should be considered as an appropriate response to antisocial behavior derive from the values that we hold, and our beliefs about basic issues relating to personal responsibility. It has been suggested that such values and beliefs also exert a profound influence on public policy relating to initiatives designed to re -integrate serious offenders back into the community, and on the ways in which offender rehabilitation programs are actually delivered by psychologists and social workers (see Day & Ward, 2010). At the same time, however, programs are commonly offered to prisoners by volunteers who are motivated to work with offenders by their religious convictions, belief in the values of compassion and forgiveness, and desire to make a difference to the communities in which they live.

Religious programs are often regarded with suspicion by correctional authorities, and proponents may experience difficulties in setting up programs and gaining access to prisoners. Religious programs for offenders, while framed in the language of offender rehabilitation, remain largely une valu ate d and thus unlikely to conform to the evidence-based standards required for their accreditation by correctional administrations. In this paper, we describe an attempt to evaluate one such program, the Kairos Short Course (Kairos Prison Ministry Australia, 2002). Whilst the data reported here are largely inconclusive and unpersuasive, the attempt to evaluate is important, and should be of interest to those with views (both positive and negative) about the potential value of religious programs in the correctional environment.

The Kairos Short Course is a three-and-a-half day intervention offered to male and female offenders in correctional institutions by Kairos Prison Ministry Australia, an interdenominational Christian ministry operating within Australian prisons. Potential participants are identified by prison chaplains and staff, with a focus on recruiting those inmates who are seen as being leaders (inmates "who have the greatest impact" on other prisoners, positive or negative; Kairos Prison Ministry Australia, 2002, p. 20) within the institution. The course is run by a team of volunteers who undergo a minimum of two months of training. A director leads the course, and a number of team members sit with a group of offenders (in a "Table Group"), engaging them in the group work component of the course. The course is highly structured with the content and processes set out in the manual (Kairos Prison Ministry Australia, 2002), allowing for uniform delivery. …