Prison Fellowship is the world's largest Christian ministry to prisoners. The evangelical group was founded by former Richard Nixon aide Charles W. Colson, who was sentenced to prison for a Watergate-related crime. The group is known for merging Christian conservatism with support for criminal justice reform.
Prison Fellowship was founded in 1976 by Charles Colson, a former aide to President Nixon who served a seven-month sentence for a Watergate-related crime. In 1979, Prison Fellowship International was founded as an international outreach to prisoners and a sister organization of Prison Fellowship. The 1980s brought additional growth to the organization as it created its Angel Tree program and its justice reform division called Justice Fellowship. While the organization has always sought to provide faith-based programming to those in prison, the 1990s saw a rise in more intensive programs provided by the organization that sought to integrate education, life-skills, and counseling into a holistic program for prisoners in certain jurisdictions.
Prison Fellowship's advocacy department, originally conducted by a sister organization called Justice Fellowship, calls for federal and state criminal justice reforms that transform those responsible for crime, validate victims, and encourages churches and communities to play a role in creating a safe, redemptive, and just society. Prison Fellowship has worked with members of Congress to pass the following pieces of criminal justice reform legislation: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (2000), the Prison Rape Elimination Act (2003), the Second Chance Act (2008), the Fair Sentencing Act (2010), and the 21st Century Cures Act (2016) as well as a variety of state-level criminal justice reforms.
The Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program serves youth with an incarcerated parent. In 2016, Prison Fellowship partnered with Zondervan to provide almost 300,000 families a Bible along with the gifts their children receive through the Angel Tree Program.
Prison Fellowship states that it has 11,300 volunteers and that 26,000 prisoners participate in its classes each month. Within prisons, the ministry organizes evangelism events, Bible study, discipleship courses, life-skill classes, and mentorship and reentry programs.
The group organizes Hope Events, one- or two-day evangelism events in prisons.
Inside Journal is a quarterly newspaper printed and distributed by Prison Fellowship via chaplains, program coordinators, and in-prison volunteers to corrections facilities across the country. This publication seeks to provide incarcerated individuals with encouragement and motivation, the message of the Gospel, and share practical advice for the daily struggles of prison life. Inside Journal is provided in both English and Spanish.
Academies were previously known as the InnerChange Freedom Initiative.
The Prison Fellowship operates the Warden Exchange, a seven-month long program for wardens and other prison leaders that incorporates weekly live video conferences and three live, in-person residential conferences which train wardens from across the country in best practices from experts in criminal justice, law, business, and education. Participants graduate from the program with individualized action plans to bring change to their facilities.