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Prisoner and Ex-Offender Ministries


As of June, 2007, Ohio had 49.199 inmates in its 32 state prisons and correctional facilities – almost four times the prison population thirty years ago. Thousands more are in county jails. Almost 48% of Ohio prisoners are African-American, though black people make up only 11.9% of the state population. A 2003 study by the Justice Policy Institute reported that 22.3% of black men born in the late 60’s had a prison record by their thirties, compared to 3.2% of white men. That proportion rose to 52.1% of African-American men who had dropped out of high school.

This explosive growth in incarceration – a national trend – comes at a giant cost. In the United States, spending on corrections rose 946% from 1977-99. In fiscal year 2007, Ohio’s prison budget is over $1.7 billion, over $24,000 per prisoner. The expense of keeping people locked up is only the start: we face the enormous social cost of ex-offenders returning to our communities with a very low chance of being able to lead a self-sufficient life without returning to crime.

Over 28,000 people were released from Ohio prisons in FY 2006. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections runs programs to build prisoner skills and to match them with employment, but only 27% of those who left prison in FY 2005 had a job at the time of release, down from 34% the year before. Landlords and employers are reluctant to take a risk on people with a criminal record. Many have crippling personal handicaps, from lack of marketable skills to the legal obligation to pay years of past-due child support. Many are mentally ill.

Because of the immense social cost of incarceration, policy-makers and advocates are trying alternatives. Some are preventative, like the Children’s Defense Fund’s call to interrupt the “cradle to prison” pipeline. Examples in our diocese include the mentoring provided by volunteers from St. Simon of Cyrene to children whose parents are in prison. The Church of Our Saviour in Cincinnati participates in community problem-oriented policing (CPOP) – a strategy engaging neighborhood residents in identifying and changing the conditions that create crime hot spots. Out of the Crossfire is a new Cincinnati program for victims of violent crime and their families, designed to change the dynamics that fuel the cycle of assault and revenge. Churches can play a role in that as well. You’ll find links to the websites about both programs on our Other Resources page.

75% of Ohio’s prisoners lack a high school diploma and 40% read below a sixth-grade level. A U.S. Department of Education study found that participating in educational programs while in prison reduced recidivism in Ohio prisoners by 23%. This suggests that helping youth at risk to complete school, or expanding GED tutoring both inside and outside prison, can prevent the waste of precious lives. Counties are reporting success with initiatives like Hamilton County’s Drug Court, which places first-time offenders in a treatment program at Talbert House instead of in jail. This has reduced the recidivism rate from 45% to 10%.

Jesus is explicit in his warnings about the tests that will be applied at the Last Judgment: “Then the King will say to those on his right hand… I was in prison, and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:33,37). Several ex-felons who had succeeded in re-entry spoke at ECSF’s prison ministry conference in 2005, and all of them testified to the crucial role played by faith communities in providing the moral support, mentoring and advocacy they needed to succeed “on the outside.”

Volunteers from many Episcopal congregations take part in Kairos retreats within Ohio’s prisons, providing an intense four-day immersion in Christianity. This ministry involves hundreds of volunteers who pray, bake cookies, and send mail to prisoners during the retreat. Others, including volunteers from Indian Hill Church, serve as volunteer chaplains in local jails and juvenile detention programs, leading bible study and prayer circles.

A particularly disarming response to the Gospel is the team of volunteers from St. Paul’s Logan, Good Shepherd Athens, and Epiphany, Nelsonville who have been playing cards with prisoners at Hocking Correctional for over a decade. Trinity, Bellaire provides hot meals and fellowship to crews of prisoners doing community work details. The grateful prisoners installed a full bath in the church in 2004.

Only a handful of our churches work with ex-offenders at this point. Instructive examples include the Transformations ministry, a transitional home for men launched by Our Saviour, Cincinnati. Another strong program is Exofac, created by ex-offenders under the auspices of Neighborhood House,a Jubilee Ministry Center in Columbus. Exofac helps people to secure housing and legitimate employment after release.

For a description of these and other ex-offender programs that have proven effective in Ohio, see the Overcoming the Odds workbook prepared by ECSF for our 2005 prison ministry conference.

For a list of churches in the diocese that have ministries addressing this issue, go here. You can network with them for ideas to establish or enhance your own ministries.

For other non-profit entities that may be helpful sources of information on community needs and program design, go to our Other Resources page.


Deacon Top Borden, a leader in Kairos retreats for women prisoners, giving the opening prayer at ECSF's 2005 conference on ministry with prisoners and ex-offenders.

Deacon Top Borden, a leader in Kairos retreats for women prisoners, giving the opening prayer at ECSF's 2005 conference on ministry with prisoners and ex-offenders.

Alice Blackwell and Marla Taylor of Exofac leading a workshop about prisoner re-entry at ECSF's Overcoming the Odds conference in 2005.

Alice Blackwell and Marla Taylor of Exofac leading a workshop about prisoner re-entry at ECSF's Overcoming the Odds conference in 2005.

David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, explaining ways to help ex-offenders make a successful re-entry.  ECSF's Overcoming the Odds conference, 2005.

David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, explaining ways to help ex-offenders make a successful re-entry. ECSF's Overcoming the Odds conference, 2005.

Ex-felon Judi Peters speaking at ECSF's 2005 Overcoming the Odds conference about the life-changing impact of her Kairos retreat while in prison.

Ex-felon Judi Peters speaking at ECSF's 2005 Overcoming the Odds conference about the life-changing impact of her Kairos retreat while in prison.

 

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