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An Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs: Do Faith-Based Programs “Work” to Reduce Recidivism?


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Faith-based organizations administer many of the prison-based programs aimed at reducing recidivism. Many of these organizations also manage treatment programs for substance abusers, at-risk juveniles, and ex-offenders. Much of the research on religiosity and delinquency indicates that the two are inversely related. Therefore, it seems plausible that faith-based programs, which are rooted in religious organizations, may be effective tools for reducing deviant and criminal behavior. However, it is unclear whether the empirical evidence supports such a claim. This study is an evidence-based assessment of the effectiveness of faith-based programs for reducing recidivism. The results of this study indicate that faith-based programs “work” to reduce recidivism. Directions for future research are discussed.
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An Evidence-Based Assessment of
Faith-Based Programs: Do Faith-Based
Programs Work” to Reduce Recidivism?
Kimberly D. Dodson
, Leann N. Cabage
& Paul M. Klenowski
School of Law Enforcement & Justice Administration, Western
Illinois University—Quad Cities, Moline, Illinois, USA
Department of Criminal Justice, Political Science, & Philosophy,
Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Oil City, Pennsylvania, USA
Available online: 22 Aug 2011
To cite this article: Kimberly D. Dodson, Leann N. Cabage & Paul M. Klenowski (2011): An Evidence-
Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs: Do Faith-Based Programs Work to Reduce Recidivism?,
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 50:6, 367-383
To link to this article: http:/ / 10.1080/ 10509674.2011.582932
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An Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based
Programs: Do Faith-Based Programs ‘‘Work’’
to Reduce Recidivism?
School of Law Enforcement & Justice Administration, Western Illinois University—Quad
Cities, Moline, Illinois, USA
Department of Criminal Justice, Political Science, & Philosophy, Clarion University of
Pennsylvania, Oil City, Pennsylvania, USA
Faith-based organizations administer many of the prison-based pro-
grams aimed at reducing recidivism. Many of these organizations
also manage treatment programs for substance abusers, at-risk juve-
niles, and ex-offenders. Much of the research on religiosity and delin-
quency indicates that the two are inversely related. Therefore, it seems
plausible that faith-based programs, which are rooted in religious
organizations, may be effective tools for reducing deviant and crimi-
nal behavior. However, it is unclear whether the empirical evidence
supports such a claim. This study is an evidence-based assessment of
the effectiveness of faith-based programs for reducing recidivism. The
results of this study indicate that faith-based programs ‘‘work’ to
reduce recidivism. Directions for future research are discussed.
KEYWORDS faith-based programs, prison programs, recidivism,
religion and criminality, religiosity
Throughout the history of the United States, religion has been inextricably tied to
our penal system. Th e penitentiary w as founded on the premise that offenders
should not only be punished, but should have the opportunity to repent from
their deviant behavior. Early correctional efforts centered on Judeo-Christian
Address correspondence to Kimberly D. Dodson, School of Law Enforcement & Justice
Administration, Western Illinois UniversityQuad Cities, 3561 60th St., Moline, IL 61265,
USA. E-mail:
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 50:367–383, 2011
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1050-9674 print=1540-8558 online
DOI: 10.1080/10509674.2011.582932
Downloaded by [Kimberly Dodson] at 09:43 22 August 2011
principles in an effort to reform prisoners. Upon entering the penitentiary, prison-
ers were given a Bible and housed primarily in solitude. The goal was to allow pris-
oners time for spiritual reflection in which they offered penitence to God and
sought forgiveness. Spiritual transformation was considered the best defense
against future offending; therefore, religion was the primary mechanism for
explaining and controlling criminal behavior. By the 20th century, scientific
knowledge replaced religion as the paradigm for explaining and controlling crimi-
nal behavior (Clear, Hardyman, Stout, Lucken, & Dammer, 2000). As a result, reli-
gion was no longer considered the best method for correcting or managing crime.
During the 21st century, correctional ideology shifted back toward
religious strategies for addressing crime. Conservative politics and the
inability of science to ‘‘cure’’ criminal behavior were the primary catalysts
for a ‘‘religious comeback’’ (Clear et al., 2000, p. 54). Today, religious orga-
nizations administer many of the prison-based programs aimed at reducing
recidivism. Additionally, many religious organizations also manage treatment
programs for substance abusers, at-risk juveniles, and ex-offenders. How-
ever, there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the claim that
faith-based programs are effective in reducing recidivism or preventing crimi-
nal behavior. The purpose of this investigation is to evaluate the effectiveness
of faith-based programs in reducing recidivism.
Faith-based initiatives can best be described as social programs or services that
are administered by an organization with some type of religious affiliation.
Faith-based programs fall under the umbrella of what is known as ‘‘intentional
religion.’’ Intentional religion refers to ‘‘the exposure to religion one receives
at a particular time in life for a particular purpose’’ (Johnson, Tompkins, &
Webb, 2002, p. 8). Stated another way, individuals are intentionally placed
in or receive treatment within a religious organization to meet a specific need.
Some examples include: (a) prisoners who participate in a Christian-based
prison program that emphasizes prayer, Bible study, and spiritual transform-
ation as a way to avoid future offending; (b) at-risk juveniles are matched with
volunteer mentors from a religious organization with the goal of helping the
juvenile avoid delinquent behavior; and (c) drug addicts who enroll in
faith-based conversion drug rehabilitation programs to achieve sobriety or
avoid relapse (Johnson et al., 2002). In summary, faith-based programs offer
the same or similar types of rehabilitation programs and services as secular
programs, the primary difference being some type of religious component.
In 1996, former President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Res-
ponsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act. One of the key
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guidelines of this legislation is the Charitable Choice (Section 104) provision.
The provision has three primary goals: (a) to encourage states to expand
the involvement of community and faith-based organizations in the public
antipoverty effort; (b) to protect the religious integrity and character of
faith-based organizations that are willing to accept government funds to pro-
vide services to underserved populations, such as the poor and needy; and
(c) to preserve the religious freedom of individuals who seek assistance from
faith-based organizations. Charitable Choice extended governmental funding
to faith-based organizations, which was a radical departure from previous
provisions that had excluded governmental funding to religious organiza-
tions. Even so, Charitable Choice went virtually unnoticed until George W.
Bush campaigned to expand its provisions during his 2000 presidential bid.
As one of his first acts as president, Bush signed an executive order cre-
ating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
(OFBCI). The primary reason for creating the OFBCI was to create ‘‘a more
open and competitive Federal grant-making process [that would] increase
the delivery of effective social services to those whose needs are greatest’’
(White House Faith-Based & Community Initiative, 2001, para. 2). To facili-
tate the faith-based initiative, centers have been established in seven federal
agencies including the United States Departments of Justice, Agriculture,
Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development,
Education, and the Agency for International Development. The primary
responsibility of these centers is to promote faith-based initiatives, which
includes supporting organizations that provide assistance to people in need,
especially organizations that serve at-risk youth, prisoners, the elderly, the
homeless, substance abusers, and welfare-to-work families.
The Bush Administration made the claim that federal regulations and
restrictions resulted in faith-based organizations being discriminated against
when seeking federal funding for their social service programs. According to
one report, the administration accused federal agencies of discrimination
against faith-based organizations and asserted that nonprofit organizations
have long enjoyed a monopoly on federal grant money without having to
prove their effectiveness (Wilhelm, 2001). The Bush Administration proposed
that Charitable Choice provisions be expanded to include all federal social
services programs, and that federal regulatory barriers prohibiting religious
organizations from competing for government funds should be removed.
In response to Bush’s effort to engage both faith-based and community-
based organizations in social services programs, Representative J.C. Watts
(R-Oklahoma) introduced The Community Solutions Act in 2001 (H.R. 7).
This new legislation included the expansion of the Charitable Choice pro-
visions. Originally, Charitable Choice only covered state programs imple-
mented under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Charitable Choice programs covered under this provision include food
stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In addition,
Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs 369
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community and faith-based organizations may provide work programs (e.g.,
on-the-job training, job-skills training, and GED programs), food programs
(e.g., food pantries, subsidized meals, and shopping), maternity homes for
unmarried minor mothers or expectant mothers who cannot stay with their
parents, and medical and health services (e.g., abstinence education, drug
and alcohol treatment, vocational rehabilitation, and health clinics). Under
the Watts proposal, Charitable Choice would have extended assistance to state,
community, and faith-based organizations under a variety of social services.
It is no surprise that the proposal to expand faith-based initiatives
sparked controversy. The primary point of contention seemed to be whether
the federal government should allow religious-based organizations to apply
and compete for federal grants. Opponents have argued that funding
faith-based programs violates the constitutional principle of ‘‘separation of
church and state’’ (Feldmann, 2003, p. 2). However, others have argued that
Charitable Choice was consistent with the most recent ruling of the U.S.
Supreme Court regarding separation of church and state in Mitchell v. Helms
(2000). In a 6–3 decision, the Court held that government funded computers
could go to parochial schools, as long as the assistance is available to public
and private secular schools as well. The Court ruled that the government may
support faith-based organizations if the rationale is to further a legitimate
secular goalimproving literacy rates, for examplebut not to advance reli-
gion (Loconte & John, 2001). Faith-based initiatives do attempt to address a
legitimate secular goal, namely crime prevention. Based on this ruling, it
could be argued that the funding of faith-based programs does not appear
to violate ‘‘separation of church and state.’’
Others have argued that the Charitable Choice provision would allow
religious organizations to discriminate in their hiring practices. For example,
Christian institutions may retain the right not to hire individuals who do not
profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Opponents of the bill claim this
amounts to federally funded employment discrimination, which is unconsti-
tutional (Loconte & John, 2001). After serious debate on the expansion of
Charitable Choice provisions, H.R. 7 passed the House, but failed to pass
the Senate.
In an attempt to salvage some elements of his Faith-Based and Com-
munity Initiatives, President Bush, along with Senators Joseph Liberman
(D-Connecticut) and Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), put forth a compro-
mise version to H.R. 7 (S 1924), the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment
Act (CARE) of 2002. The CARE Act emphasizes tax incentives for greater
donations to charity, rather than expanding Charitable Choice. This revised
bill passed both the Senate and House and was touted as a Bush Administra-
tion victory, but in reality it did very little to further the national faith-based
In February 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order
that changed the name of the White House Office of Faith-Based and
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Community Initiatives to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neigh-
borhood Partnerships. The mission of this agency is to:
Bring together leaders and experts in fields related to the work of
faith-based and neighborhood organizations in order to: identify best
practices and successful modes of delivering social services; evaluate
the need for improvements in the implementation and coordination of
public policies relating to faith-based and other neighborhood organiza-
tions; and make recommendations to the President, through the Execu-
tive Director, for changes in policies, programs, and practices that
affect the delive ry of services by such organizations and the needs of
low-income and other underserved persons in comm unities at home
and around the world. (Executive Order 13199 Amended, 2009, para. 12)
Researchers have argued that individuals who are involved in religious orga-
nizations are less likely to be involved in criminal behavior (Burkett, 1977,
1980; Higgins & Albrecht, 1977). However, Hirschi and Stark (1969) muddied
the empirical waters regarding the relationship between religiosity and delin-
quent behavior with their landmark study, ‘‘Hellfire and Delinquency.’’ The
researchers examined a random sample (n ¼ 4,077) of students from public
junior and senior high schools in Contra Costa County, California in 1964.
Hirschi and Stark (1969) hypothesized that juveniles who believed in the con-
cepts of ‘‘sin’’ and ‘‘hell,’’ and who attended church and Sunday school, were
less likely to commit delinquent acts. Religiosity was measured by church
attendance (e.g., frequent attendance, at least once a month, and infrequent
attendance, less than once a month). Delinquency was measured using
police records (i.e., official number of offenses committed in the previous
three years) and self-report data. The self-report delinquency index consisted
of six items (e.g., petty and grand larceny, auto theft, vandalism, drug use,
and assault). Contrary to expectations, the researchers found that frequent
church-goers and ‘‘students who believe in the Devil and in life after death
are as likely to commit delinquency as are students who do not believe in
a supernatural world’’ (Hirschi & Stark, 1969, p. 210).
In a replication of Hirschi and Stark’s study, Burkett and White (1974)
examined a random sample (n ¼ 855) of high school seniors from the Pacific
Northwest. They also hypothesized that juveniles who attended church were
less likely to be involved in delinquency. Frequency of church attendance
was used as a measure of religiosity. Delinquency measures included
larceny, vandalism, assault, and drug use (e.g., alcohol and marijuana use).
Consistent with Hirschi and Stark’s study, they found partial support for
the hypothesis that those who frequently attended church were as likely to
Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs 371
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commit delinquent acts (e.g., larceny, vandalism, and assault). However, the
findings revealed a moderately strong inverse relationship between church
attendance and use of marijuana and alcohol.
Additional studies indicate that religiosity does have a negative impact
on deviant and criminal behavior. Higgins and Albrecht (1977), for example,
examined the relationship between religiosity and delinquency in a random
sample (n ¼ 1,383) of Atlanta, Georgia tenth graders. They used two items to
measure religiosity (e.g., which church they attend and how often they
attend church or religious services). The outcome measure of delinquent
behavior included 17 items, which ranged from relatively minor offenses
(e.g., skipping school) to more serious offenses (e.g., sold narcotics). The
results indicated a modest to moderately strong negative relationship
between church attendance and each of the 17 delinquent behaviors.
Additional research supports the findings of Higgins and Albrecht (1977) that
church attendance and delinquency are inversely related (see e.g., Albrecht,
Chadwick, & Alcorn, 1977; Burkett, 1977; 1980; Jensen & Erickson, 1979).
In another study, Evans, Cullen, Dunaway, and Burton (1995) assessed
the impact of religiosity on adult criminal behavior using a sample (n ¼ 477)
of white males from a midwestern, urban area.
They used three multi-item
dimensions of religion to measure religiosity, which included religious
beliefs (hellfire), religious values (salience), and religious activity. They also
included a measure of general religiosity. A 43-item scale was used as a mea-
sure of adult criminal behavior. The authors found that three of the four mea-
sures of religiosity were not statistically significant in reducing adult criminal
behavior. However, religious activities had a direct effect on reducing adult
criminal behavior. This relationship held even with the introduction of secu-
lar controls, and it was not dependent on religious or social contexts.
Johnson, Larson, De Li, and Jang (2000b) examined whether individual
religiosity acted as a protective factor against drug use and other illegal activi-
ties using a sample (n ¼ 2,358) of inner city black youths from Boston,
Chicago, and Philadelphia. A single-item measure, church attendance, was
used as an indicator of individual religiosity. The outcome measures included
three crime categories: (a) nondrug crime; (b) drug use; and (c) drug selling.
The researchers found individual religiosity was significantly related to a
reduction in offending in all three categories.
Additional research indicates that the relationship between religiosity
and delinquency may be spurious. For example, a study conducted by
Cochran, Wood, and Arneklev (1994) examined a sample (n ¼ 1,600) of high
school students from Oklahoma to determine whether the relationship
between religiosity and delinquency would remain when controlling for
measures of arousal and social control theories. As noted by Cochran et al.
(1994), the ideal indicators of arousal would be to use both neurological
and extraneurological (i.e., physiological and self-reported) measures.
However, the researchers were unable to use neurological and physiological
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indicators and instead settled for self-report data. The arousal scale included
measures of thrill-seeking, impulsivity, and physicality (which were strikingly
similar to self-control measures). Indicators of social control measures of
internalized control (self-esteem and the California Personality Inventory
socialization scale), parental control (parental supervision and broken-home
status), and institutional control (school attachment and commitment) were
included. Three measures of delinquency were examined: interpersonal
delinquency (assault and robbery), property theft (larceny and auto theft)
and property damage (vandalism, arson, and burglary). Religiosity was mea-
sured by two different scales including religious participation (church attend-
ance), and religious salience (importance of church). The findings indicated
when controlling for both arousal and social control indicators, the effect of
religiosity is reduced to insignificance in the case of assault, theft, vandalism,
illicit drug use, and truancy. As a result, the authors concluded that the
relationship between religiosity and delinquency is spurious with regard to
assault, theft, vandalism, illicit drug use, and truancy. Both religious partici-
pation and salience remained significant for legalized substances (e.g.,
tobacco and alcohol).
The purpose of the present study is to conduct an evidence-based assess-
ment of faith-based programs to determine whether they are effective for
reducing recidivism. Others have attempted to assess the effectiveness of
faith-based programs. For example, Johnson et al. (2002) completed a com-
prehensive literature review of the effectiveness of faith-based programs. Our
study goes beyond that of Johnson et al.’s (2002) review because we use an
evidence-based evaluation that is considered the superior method for asses-
sing the effectiveness of programs designed to reduce or prevent criminal
behavior (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, & MacKenzie, 2002).
The Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (SMS) is one of the most widely
accepted tools for assessing scholarly works in criminology. It enables crim-
inologists to critically evaluate the effectiveness of various types of justice-
related programs including those focusing on crime prevention strategies.
The SMS is a 5-point scale that uses specific criteria to assess (or score) the
methodological rigor of studies ranging from Level 1 (least rigorous) to Level
5(most rigorous).
Some of the criteria used to evaluate the quality of a particular study
include the use of pretests and posttests, randomization of the experiments,
the use of comparison and control groups, history, selection bias, causal
Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs 373
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order, evaluation of measurement error, statistical power, research design,
and assessments of internal and external validity (Sherman et al., 2002). If
a study has sufficient methodological rigor (i.e., Level 3 or higher), research-
ers can classify the effectiveness of a program into one of four categories:
‘‘what works, what does not work, what is promising, and what is unknown’’
(Sherman et al., 2002, p. 18).
Programs can be classified as ‘‘working’’ if there are at least two Level 3
to Level 5 evaluation studies that have statistically significant results in the
theoretically expected direction, and the preponderance of empirical evi-
dence suggests programs are effective. Programs may be classified as ‘‘not
working’’ if there are at least two Level 3 to Level 5 evaluations that conclude
the effectiveness of the programs are statistically insignificant, and the pre-
ponderance of the empirical evidence indicates the programs are ineffective.
Those programs that can be coded as ‘‘promising’’ must have at least one
Level 3 to Level 5 evaluation study that has found the effectiveness to be stat-
istically significant, and the preponderance of the empirical evidence sug-
gests that the program is effective. Programs that cannot be classified into
one of the three other categories are defined as having ‘‘unknown’’ effects
(Sherman et al., 2002).
As previously noted, the research on religiosity and delinquency indicates
that individuals who participate in religious organizations are less likely to
participate in deviant and criminal behavior. Thus, it seems plausible that
faith-based programs, which are rooted in religious organizations, may be
effective for reducing criminal offending. Proponents of faith-based initia-
tives argue that religious organizations provide social services more effec-
tively than public agencies (Johnson et al., 2002). To date, there is little
empirical evidence to suggest that faith-based programs are more effective
than their secular counterparts (see for exceptions Clear et al., 2000; Johnson
et al., 2002). In addition, there is a general lack of empirical support for the
claim that faith-based programs are effective in addressing many social ills,
including criminal behavior. It is also important to note that there are a
limited number of studies that have assessed or evaluated the role faith-
based programs have played in the reduction of delinquent and criminal
Descriptive Studies
A total of three descriptive studies were identified and included in this evalu-
ation of the effectiveness of faith-based programs to reduce delinquent and=
or criminal behavior (see Table 1). Two of the studies included in this review
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TABLE 1 Faith-Based Programs
Study & author(s) Sample size
Scientific methods
score Description of intervention & findings
Prison Fellowship Ministry
Young, Gartner, O’Connor,
Larson, and Wright (1995)
180=185 4 (T and matched C)
Multiple sites
8- to 14-year follow-up
Training of volunteer prison ministers.
PFM had higher survival rates.
Prison Fellowship Ministry
Johnson, Larson,
and Pitts (1997)
201=201 4 (T and matched C)
Multiple sites
1-year follow-up
Participation in PFM programs (i.e., in-prison seminars,
life plan seminars, and Bible studies).
PFM inmates most active in Bible studies are less
likely to recidivate
Ten Point Coalition
Winship and Berrien (1999)
N=A 1 (exploratory study) Describes a community faith-based outreach
program of Boston.
Teen Challenge
Hess (1976)
Not reported 2 (exploratory study)
(T and nonmatched C)
Comparison of Teen Challenge participants with TC
dropouts and noncompleters.
TC group had lower recidivism and higher
employment rates.
Teen Challenge
Thompson (1994)
25 1 (exploratory study) Examined recidivism in a a group of TC graduates.
Significant long- term changes in behaviors and
Teen Challenge
Bicknese (1999)
59=59 3 (T and matched C) Examined drug relapse in a a group of TC graduates and
short-term inpatients.
TC group less likely to need additional drug treatment,
more likely to be drug-free and employed.
Humaita Faith-Based Prison
Johnson (2002)
148=247 3 (T and matched C)
3-year follow-up
Comparison of a faith-based and industrial prison.
Humaita high-risk and low-risk offenders less likely
to recidivate.
Note. T ¼ treatment group; C ¼ control group.
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are evaluations of the effectiveness of the Christian-based Teen Challenge’s
drug treatment programs. The first study compared a sample (n ¼ not
reported) of graduates (i.e., those who successfully completed the program)
with induction center dropouts (i.e., those who dropped out at the beginning
of the program) and training center dropouts (i.e., those who were unwilling
or unable to complete the program) between 1968 and 1975 (Hess, 1976). A
total of 366 individuals were identified but only 198 (54%) of those com-
pleted surveys. According to self-report data, individuals who graduated
from the Teen Challenge center showed significant and positive behavioral
changes when compared to the two dropout groups. Specifically, individuals
who graduated from the Teen Challenge program were more likely to
be employed, less likely to have sought additional drug treatment, and
less likely to have criminal records over the 7-year follow-up period (Hess,
The second study surveyed former Teen Challenge participants who
had successfully completed the four to six month induction program based
in Chattanooga, Tennessee (Thompson, 1994). Graduates of the program
from a 12-year period (1979–1991) were identified (n ¼ 213) and a random
sample of 50 was subsequently surveyed. Only 50% of the potential respon-
dents completed surveys (n ¼ 25). Thompson (1994) concluded the Teen
Challenge graduates have experienced a significant change in both their
behaviors and attitudes with long-term effects. This is a curious finding given
the small sample size and the lack of a control group with which to compare
the Teen Challenge graduates.
Winship and Berrien (1999) investigated whether the Ten Point
Coalition (TPC), based in Boston, Massachusetts, had an impact on the
reduction of youth violence. The TPC, which consisted of churches and local
police departments, joined forces in an effort to reduce youth violence. Prior
to these organizations coming together to address youth crime, according to
one report, the police lacked credibility in the black community (Winship &
Berrien, 1999). When the TPC and police joined forces, many felt that the
TPC helped to create an ‘‘umbrella of legitimacy for the police to work
under’’ (Winship & Berrien, 1999, p. 67). Ministers within the TPC organized
community outreach programs designed to help troubled youth avoid gang
involvement. The ministers also began to report offenders who were
involved in gang or criminal activity to local law enforcement.
As primary evidence that the program ‘‘worked,’’ Winship and Berrien
(1999) noted youth homicide rates between 1990 and 1998 had dropped sig-
nificantly. Specifically, between 1990 and 1998, youth murders dropped from
a high of 152 to a low of 35, which is a 78% decline. According to the Bureau
of Justice Statistics (1994), national homicide rates were fluctuating (i.e., there
were decreases and increases in youth homicide rates depending on the
year) between 1990 and 1993. After 1994, national homicide rates began
to decline across the United States (BJS, 2001). As a result, it seems more
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plausible that the Boston decline in homicide rates is likely attributed to an
overall national decline in homicide rates during this time period.
Multivariate Studies
Two of the four multivariate studies identified evaluated the effectiveness of
separate programs affiliated with the Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM; see
Table 1). Young, Gartner, O’Connor, Larson, and Wright (1995) used a longi-
tudinal quasi-experimental design to examine whether a faith-based prison
program that trained federal inmates as volunteer prison ministers was effec-
tive in reducing long-term recidivism. The researchers compared inmates
who received the PFM training (n ¼ 180) with a matched control group
(n ¼ 185) over an eight to 14-year follow-up period. Inmates were fur-
loughed to Washington, DC for an intensive two-week prison ministry sem-
inar, provided by PFM and supported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
According to Young et al. (1995, p. 101), the purpose of the training ‘‘was
aimed at deepening the prisoners’ Christian faith and preparing them to pro-
vide Christian fellowship and support to their fellow inmates.’’ The PFM
training did not have the explicit purpose of reducing long-term recidivism,
but the researchers wanted to assess whether this was an outcome of the
The overall finding of the chi-square test and survival analysis indicated
that the experimental group had significantly lower rates of recidivism than
the control group, but when disaggregating the analysis some different find-
ings emerged. The PFM training was effective for low-risk offenders, but not
for high-risk offenders. By definition, low-risk offenders would be less likely
to re-offend in the future than high-risk offenders. It seems that the program
worked for individuals who were already at a lowered risk of recidivism. In
addition, the PFM training was not effective in reducing recidivism among
African American males. Contrary to research expectations, African American
males in the PFM group became recidivists at a slightly higher rate than
African American males in the control group. The findings also indicate that
women who participated in the PFM seminar had a drop in recidivism four
times greater than the men. As a result of these findings, one can only con-
clude that the PFM was more effective for certain groups of offenders than
Johnson, Larson, and Pitts (1997) examined the impact of religious pro-
grams on institutional adjustment and recidivism rates in two matched groups
of inmates from four adult New York State prisons. The PFM group (n ¼ 201)
was compared to a matched control group (n ¼ 201). Both groups were simi-
lar on measures of institutional adjustment, as measured by both general and
serious disciplinary infractions, and recidivism, as measured by arrest data
during a 1-year follow-up period. The programs offered by the PFM included
in-prison seminars, life plan seminars, and Bible studies. The in-prison
Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs 377
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seminars and Bible studies were designed to assist inmates in ‘‘their walk
with Christ’’ and to ‘‘provide an ongoing opportunity to study God’s word
and to enjoy Christian fellowship’’ (Johnson et al., 1997, p. 151). The life plan
seminars were designed to help the offender to reintegrate into society and
to enhance their success after release.
The researchers categorized the PFM groups into high, medium, and
low participation classifications. The findings indicate that there was no dif-
ference in the PFM group and the non-PFM group with regard to general
institutional infractions. Although the researchers did not find a significant
difference in the groups, they found the high PFM participants were slightly
less likely than their non-PFM counterparts to commit general institutional
infractions. The findings also show that there was no significant difference
in the PFM and non-PFM groups with regards to serious prison infractions.
After controlling for level of PFM participation, the high PFM group was
slightly more likely than the medium and low categories to commit serious
institutional infractions, which was in the unexpected direction. In examining
the recidivism data, researchers concluded that there was no significant dif-
ference in arrest during the one-year follow-up. After controlling for level of
PFM participation, a different pattern emerged. After the one-year follow-up,
the high PFM participants were significantly less likely than medium or low
PFM participants and their non-PFM counterparts to be rearrested.
Bicknese (1999) conducted a comparative evaluation of the faith-based
Teen Challenge drug treatment program using a one-year follow-up. Those
who had successfully completed Teen Challenge (n ¼ 59) were compared
to a matched control group (n ¼ 59), which was composed of clients in
short-term in-patient (STI) programs funded by Medicaid and Medicare.
The groups were similar with regards to demographic and background
(e.g., drug use and prior criminal record) measures. Before and after inter-
views were used to assess the effectiveness of the Teen Challenge program.
The outcome measures included freedom from addictive substances, return
to treatment, employment, and precipitants of drug use such as depression
or cravings. Teen Challenge graduates scored as high or higher compared
to their STI counterparts in all areas of the study. Specifically, the Teen
Challenge group was more likely to remain sober and maintain employment
than the STI group. In addition, fewer Teen Challenge graduates returned to
treatment than in the STI group.
In the final study, Johnson (2002) conducted an exploratory analysis
comparing the recidivism rates for two Brazilian prisons. Braganca prison
was primarily based on a vocational model and the use of prison industry
to better prepare offenders for release and to reduce the cost of operating
the facility. Humaita prison was the first known prison to adopt a completely
faith-based approach to all aspects of prison administration, security, and
programming. The Humaita prisoners (n ¼ 148) were compared to Braganca
prisoners (n ¼ 247) on several factors including severity of offense, category
378 K. D. Dodson et al.
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of offense, and time incarcerated. The Humaita prisoners differed signifi-
cantly from the Braganca prisoners on severity of offense; that is, Humaita
prisoners’ offense severity was slightly greater (3.9) than Braganca prisoners’
(3.4). Humaita prisoners were also more likely to have committed more viol-
ent offenses than Braganca prisoners. This means that we would expect the
Humaita prisoners to be at a greater risk for reoffending because of their
more serious criminal histories.
Recidivism rates of the two prison samples were compared over a 3-year
postrelease period from January 1996 through December 1999. The outcome
measure of recidivism included a two-item measure of new arrest and
reincarceration. The findings revealed the recidivism rates for both prisons
were relatively low, Braganca (36%) and Humaita (16%). In comparison,
there was a 20-percentage point difference between the recidivism rates of
the two facilities, with Humaita’s rates being lower. Additionally, this finding
held when controlling for high-risk as well as low-risk offenders. These find-
ings indicate that Braganca’s faith-based model has long-term treatment
The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of faith-based pro-
grams for reducing recidivism. Proponents of faith-based initiatives often
argue that religious organizations provide social service programs more
effectively than public agencies (Johnson et al., 2002). Unfortunately,
research indicates that there is little empirical evidence that faith-based pro-
grams are more effective than their secular counterparts (Johnson, 2002). In
addition, few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of faith-based pro-
grams and their ability to reduce crime. However, Johnson et al. (2002,
p. 21), in a comprehensive literature review of faith-based organizations,
concluded their effectiveness to be ‘‘positive and encouraging’’ although
his he did not conduct an evidence-based assessment. Based on limited
research reviewed here, it appears that faith-based organizations ‘‘work’’ to
reduce recidivism.
All of the studies reviewed here were evaluated using the Maryland
Scientific Methods Scale created by Sherman et al. (2002; see Appendix A).
Three of the studies reviewed were descriptive studies with methodologically
weak research designs (see e.g., Hess, 1976; Thompson, 1994; Winship &
Berrien, 1999). As a result, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions
regarding the effectiveness of these faith-based programs and services
(although the researchers of these studies did draw conclusions).
In an effort to rule out rival and=or alternative explanations, experi-
mental designs (i.e., the random assignment of groups) are preferable
(Shadish, Cook, & Campbell, 2002). In all of the studies included in this
Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs 379
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review, researchers were brought in to evaluate programs after the programs
had already been implemented, which means that random assignment was
not an option. But it is important to note that all of the multivariate studies
reviewed for this study were of strong methodological quality. To be more
precise, each of the studies reviewed used quasi-experimental designs
(Bicknese, 1999; Johnson et al., 1997; Young et al., 1995). Two studies were
longitudinal, which can help to establish whether there are long-term treat-
ment effects (Johnson, 2002; Young et al., 1995).
The most serious flaw with the studies reviewed was that researchers
failed to measure religious attachment, which is a key construct that defines
the nature of faith-based programs (see for a similar argument Johnson et al.,
2002). The majority of studies that investigated the relationship between
faith-based programs and crime used ‘‘involvement’’ in church activities or
church attendance as proxy measures of religiosity. From a social control per-
spective, research indicates that involvement in conventional activities is the
least empirically supported proposition of the theory. Yet research on
faith-based programs and their ability to reduce crime indicates that those
who are most involved in church activities or regularly attend church are less
likely to be involved in delinquent and criminal behavior. Researchers argue
that this relationship may be more complex than the research findings suggest.
For example, Benda and Corwyn (1997) claim that it may actually be the attach-
ments that people form with the church or with church members that influence
their subsequent behavior. In other words, those individuals with strong social
attachments would be less likely to participate in deviant behavior.
The limitations notwithstanding, four studies were identified and
reviewed, which had sufficient scientific rigor to draw some preliminary con-
clusions. In evaluating the programs administered and managed by Prison
Fellowship Ministries, the programs appear to work for certain offenders
under certain conditions. Young et al. (1995) found that PFM training was
effective for low-risk offenders but not for high-risk offenders. In addition,
the program did not significantly reduce recidivism among African American
males. The PFM training had its greatest effect with females, who had the
most dramatic reduction in recidivism. It may be that females form strong
attachments within the faith-based programs, which leads to a reduction in
recidivism. Future research should investigate why the program seems to
be more effective for certain offenders.
Johnson et al. (1997) conducted a similar study evaluating the effective-
ness of PFM programs to reduce institutional infractions and recidivism. They
found no significant difference in the PFM and the non-PFM groups with
regard to reduction in institutional infractions. Additionally, while controlling
for level of PFM participation, individuals who reported high levels of partici-
pation were slightly more likely to commit serious institutional infractions,
which is the unexpected direction. However, high PFM participants were
less likely than medium and low PFM participants and their non-PFM
380 K. D. Dodson et al.
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counterparts to be rearrested. Once again, researchers should investigate
why the program seems to be more effective for certain offenders.
Bicknese (1999) conducted a study of the Teen Challenge program and its
ability to reduce drug use. The Teen Challenge group was more likely to remain
sober, maintain employment, and was less likely to return to treatment than the
comparison group. The findings indicate the Teen Challenge program had at
least short-term effects in reducing substance use. Still a longer follow-up per-
iod would have been preferable to assess the long-term effects of the program.
The final study conducted by Johnson (2002) examined recidivism rates
for two Brazilian prisons. One prison was based on a vocational model and
the other on a faith-based model. The faith-based prison showed lower levels
of recidivism in the 3-year follow-up period. In other words, the faith-based
prison model showed long-term treatment effects. This finding held when
controlling for high-risk as well as low-risk offenders, which is encouraging.
We concluded that faith-based programs reviewed work to reduce
recidivism. These findings should be tempered by the fact that the research
on faith-based programs is limited and much of the research is methodologi-
cally weak. On the other hand, it would be premature to abandon faith-based
programs. Instead, future research should use more rigorous research
designs to determine whether faith-based programs are indeed effective for
reducing criminal behavior.
1. There were black respondents but they were subsequently dropped from the analysis because their
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The Maryland Scientific Methods Scale
Research designs
Before-after Control Multiple units Randomization
Methods Score
Level 1 O O X O
Level 2 X O O O
Level 3 X X O O
Level 4 X X X O
Level 5 X X X X
Threats to internal validity
Causal direction History Chance factors Selection bias
Methods Score
Level 1 X X X X
Level 2 O X X X
Level 3 O O X X
Level 4 O O O X
Level 5 O O O O
Source: (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, & MacKenzie, 2002).
Note:X¼ present and O ¼ absent.
Evidence-Based Assessment of Faith-Based Programs 383
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Supplementary resource (1)

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... Scholarly literature on religious life in prison can be divided according to different concerns. A first concern is how religious faith impacts the rehabilitation of offenders in coping with life in prison and in reducing recidivism (Young et al. 1995;O'Connor and Perreyclear 2002;Johnson and Larson 2003;Kinney 2006;Dodson, Cabage, and Klenowski 2011;Johnson 2011;Hallett and Johnson 2014). Most studies discover a positive effect of participation in religious activities on psychological well being, on establishing inner self-worth and on coping with the limitations of life behind bars (Clear et al. 2000), in reducing inmates' isolation (Thomas and Zaitzow 2006), and in overcoming feelings of depression (Huey Dye et al. 2014). ...
Duterte’s War on Drugs has brought a huge increase in the population of already heavily overcrowded prisons. Reflecting the overall poverty of large parts of Philippine society and a government that shows little interest in allocating sufficient resources to the needs of prisoners, prisons struggle with a growing number of inmates. In this context, religious groups play a crucial role in contributing spiritual and material resources. This study is based on an investigation in two penal institutions in the Philippines: the Manila City Jail in downtown Manila, a remand centre for inmates awaiting trial; and the New Bilibid Prison, with an inmate population of around 19,000 possibly the world’s largest prison, located in the outskirts of Manila. The study uses the framework of religious citizenship to describe inmates as active agents of change who, through their religious activities, shape communal structures and provide frameworks of meaning amid suffering and deprivation. Based on participating observation and interviews with inmates, with penal staff, and with religious service providers, this ethnographic study analyses the role of religion within the complex penal society as provider of social, material and spiritual support.
A growing number of organisations and institutions are using sustainability and horticultural interventions in the correctional context for their supposed healing, rehabilitative or therapeutic benefits. This article thematically reviews a range of qualitative, quantitative, case study, meta‐analysis, and controlled experimental research studies – to compare what is known about therapeutic horticulture interventions with research on pathways to desistance from crime. It finds the following areas are both evidence‐based outcomes in therapeutic horticulture and factors that likely contribute to desistance from crime: identity transformation; education and vocational training; mental health and wellness; social support; and spirituality and religion. Overall, the review will be of interest to practitioners implementing therapeutic horticulture in correctional or community settings, and researchers studying re‐entry or resettlement programmes, therapeutic horticulture, and desistance.
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Recent scholarship has affirmed the importance of overall health and wellbeing for people exposed to incarceration. Specifically, researchers have begun to ascertain how physical and mental health are integral to a returning citizen's wellbeing and future interactions with the criminal justice system. However, this conceptualization of health is limited in scope. We expand this body of research by proposing an eight-domain holistic model of health which includes physical, mental/emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, financial, intellectual, and environmental health. We use data from the LoneStar Project—a representative, multi-wave study of reentering men in Texas. Respondents were first interviewed in prison prior to release and reinterviewed twice in the community post-release. Using ordinary least squares (OLS) regression, we run regressions for each health domain then include all significant correlates from that step into an additional model to predict recidivism until approximately three years postrelease. Study findings suggest that a more inclusive model of reentry health and wellness is essential to support reentering people as different health domains matter within diverse contexts. Emphasizing a more streamlined approach to encompass all domains of health may be crucial in an effort to adequately prepare recently incarcerated people for a successful reentry process upon prison release.
Since time immemorial, religion has been, and is, a part of society that provides a moral compass and stability in society. It regulates human behavior so that there is conformity to norms and values that are upheld by society. Deviation from these norms and values is subject to sanction, which results in incarceration. At the turn of the 20th century, a more proactive step has been taken for the rehabilitation of those who have come into conflict with the law. The many secular programs that were implemented in the rehabilitation of prisoners ¹ provided little to the desired effect, which is highlighted by looking at the rate of recidivism. In this context, the role of religion became increasingly recognized as a way to rehabilitate prisoners. In some instances, faith-based programs have been integrated into secular programs, while in other instances, faith-based organizations (FBOs) volunteer to independently provide their service. Irrespective of the approach used, there is sufficient evidence to support the view that faith-based programs have a positive effect on the rehabilitation of prisoners and helps to reduce recidivism.
The main purpose of this chapter is to highlight key aspects of the relation between religion and the Romanian penitentiary environment. An in-depth look into the history of the correctional system on today’s Romanian territory reveals that religion has always been an important part of penal history, although its role and importance in the punishment process have shifted over time. Besides identifying the events and people who have influenced the modelling of the penitentiary system and the practice of religion in the carceral environment over time, this chapter documents the status of religion in Romanian prisons, the way religious freedom is respected, the impact of religion on detainees and future prospects.
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In recent years, religious programming for inmates is being applauded by some as the latest answer to recidivism. Policy makers and correctional officials alike are among the supporters of these programs that go well beyond conventional prison ministry. The emphasis in promoting the expansion of religion-based programs indeed lies in the claim that faith in a higher power prevents relapse into criminal activity better than secular strategies. Whether this claim can be consistently validated remains unclear. Moreover, the sustained focus on religion's utility in preventing future criminal conduct diminishes religion's immediate value to the inmate during the term of incarceration. With this latter function in mind, this article reports findings from qualitative inquiries conducted in several prisons nationwide. Designed to reveal the meaning of religion to inmates, the study calls attention to the role of religion in preventing devaluation and fostering survival.
Hirschi and Stark (1969) reported very little relationship between religious involvement and adolescent delinquency. They concluded that religion is therefore "irrelevant to delinquency." The present paper offers an alternative interpretation of their findings and tests one of its implications. It is hypothesized that Hirschi and Stark's findings apply only to offenses against persons and property, and that a clear relationship between religion and delinquency should be found for "victimless" crimes. Data from high-school students in the Pacific Northwest replicate Hirschi and Stark's findings but also reveal a moderately strong relationship between religion and the use of marijuana and alcohol. Suggestions are made for further tests of the alternative interpretation.
While Hirschi and Stark conclude that religiosity is unrelated to delinquency, their findings and a replication of their study in the Pacific Northwest (Burkett and White) may not be generalizable to other areas of the country. Using self-report data from 1,383 Atlanta tenth graders in 1970, we found a moderate negative relationship between church attendance and delinquent behavior. Our data also suggest a causal structure in which respect for the juvenile court system links church attendance with delinquency. We suspect that church attendance may be a truer reflection of adolescents' religious experience in the South than the West, so accounting for the differences between our findings and those of previous research.
Religious training is assumed to prevent delinquency by promoting the development of moral values, acceptance of conventional authority, and belief in the existence of supernatural sanctions. The relations between church attendance and these presumed consequences are examined. Children who attend church are no more likely than non-attenders to accept ethical principles; they are only slightly more likely than non-attenders to respect conventional authority; they are much more likely to believe in the literal existence of the Devil and a life after death. Those variables affected by church attendance, however, are unrelated to the commission of delinquent acts, while those variables strongly related to delinquency are unaffected by church attendance. The lack of a relation between church attendance and delinquency is thus “explained.”
Most investigators have concluded that religion is largely irrelevant to understanding deviance, but they have tended to rely on bivariate research models. Studies dealing with the problems of predicting behavior from measures of verbal attitudes suggest that religious attitudes must be combined with other social situational constraints for a better understanding of behavioral outcomes. Using data collected from Mormon teenagers in three western states, good prediction of deviance was obtained when religious indicators were combined with measures of peer and family relationships. Consistent with the expectations of Burkett and White (1974) religious variables were more strongly related to victimless than to victim deviance. Peer and family expectations were more important for victim deviance, especially for boys.
This study of 724 adolescents from four public high schools indicated that any relationship between religion and delinquency is complex. Indeed, it indicates that the significance of the relationship depends on what measures of religion are used, on whether other important familial and peer influences are considered, and on the form of delinquency analyzed. When only controlling for demographics, while examining measures of church attendance and religiosity, the present study supports the usual conclusion that religion is related to status offenses and not to crime (see reviews, Burkett 1993; Cochran et al. 1994). However, evangelism is not related to either form of delinquency when only considering the effects of demographic variables. On the other hand, when elements of control theory were added to demographic factors with hierarchical regression procedures, church attendance and religiosity ceased to be relevant to status offenses and remained irrelevant to crime, whereas evangelism was related to crime. The implications of those findings for future investigations were discussed.