Religious involvement leads to positive life change for those released from prison, according to a recent study that will appear in a forthcoming publication of the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology.

An advance copy was provided to

Michael Hallett, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida, and Stephen McCoy, executive director of Jacksonville’s Prisoners of Christ, studied “the life-narratives of 25 successful ex-offenders professing Christianity as the source of their desistance.”

The authors defined desistance as “no arrests or incarcerations (in either jail or prison) for a minimum of at least 2 years prior to the date of the interview.”

Hallett and McCoy found that “stories of behavior change and identity transformation achieved through private religious practice and energetic church membership dominate the narratives.”

They noted the challenges facing former offenders “to overcome society’s dogged and often totalizing definition of them as irredeemable.”

All interviewees were male.

Each was asked to share why and how they felt their faith attributed to their positive transformation. Common themes were:

â— Involvement in religious education while incarcerated.

â— “Redemption narratives” in which feelings of brokenness led to conversion and a new identity – being “born again.”

â— Continued acknowledgment of sinfulness as the “best hope for redemption.”

â— Breaking from past associates and committing to church involvement upon release.

â— Emphasizing both social support and personal responsibility in order to avoid negative behaviors.

Based on their findings, Hallett and McCoy concluded, “Helping ex-offenders develop narrative re-definitions of self that honor their subjective experiences should be a central goal for criminal justice practitioners.”

Editor’s note: “Through the Door” –’s newly released documentary on faith and prisons – explores the initiatives of churches and faith-based organizations in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Interviewees speak to the issues of prescription drug abuse, addiction, mental health, the role of religious volunteers and chaplains, and the often-overlooked stresses of prison officials.

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