Prison Fellowship is the world's largest Christian ministry to prisoners.[1] The evangelical group was founded by former Richard Nixon aide Charles W. Colson, who was sentenced to prison for a Watergate-related crime.[2][3] The group is known for merging Christian conservatism with support for criminal justice reform.[1][4]


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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7][8]



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.[9][10][11] Prison Fellowship has worked with members of Congress to pass the following pieces of criminal justice reform legislation: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993),[12] the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (2000),[13] the Prison Rape Elimination Act (2003),[14] the Second Chance Act (2008),[15] the Fair Sentencing Act (2010),[16] and the 21st Century Cures Act (2016)[17] as well as a variety of state-level criminal justice reforms.

Angel Tree

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.[18]

In Prison Ministry

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.[19]

Hope Events

The group organizes Hope Events, one- or two-day evangelism events in prisons.[20]

Inside Journal

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.[11] 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.[21][22] Inside Journal is provided in both English and Spanish.[23]


Academies were previously known as the InnerChange Freedom Initiative.

Warden Exchange

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.[24]

Burl Cain, Pat Caruso, Alan Cropsey, Doug Dretke, Edmund Duffy, Randy Grounds, Robert Hood, and Reginald Wilkinson are on the program's advisory panel.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Mark Oppenheimer, With Prison Ministry, Colson Linked Religion and Reform, New York Times (April 27, 2012).
  2. ^ Nicholas Turner & Jeremy Travis, What We Learned From German Prisons, New York Times (August 6, 2015).
  3. ^ Laurie Goodstein, Group Sues Christian Program at Iowa Prison, New York Times (February 13, 2003).
  4. ^ Samuel G. Freedman, Unlikely Allies on a Former Wedge Issue, New York Times (June 28, 2008): "On the surface a redoubt of the religious right, firmly rooted in evangelical Christianity and conservative politics, the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ liberal position on such issues underscores the increasing irrelevance of such rigid categories."
  5. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark (2012-04-27). "With Prison Ministry, Colson Linked Religion and Reform – Beliefs". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  6. ^ "Timeline: History of Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  7. ^ Johnson, Bryon; Larson, David (2003). "The InnerChange Freedom Initiative: A Preliminary Evaluation of a Faith-Based Prison Program". Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society. 
  8. ^ Johnson, Bryon (2004). "Religious Programs and Recidivism Among Former Inmates in Prison Fellowship Programs: A Long-Term Follow-Up Study". Justice Quarterly. 21: 329–54. doi:10.1080/07418820400095831. 
  9. ^ "Justice Reform and Public Policy". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  10. ^ "Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life» Blog Archive  » Prison Fellowship, Justice Fellowship". projects.pewforum.org. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  11. ^ a b Smith, Andrea (2008). Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. pp. 9–15. ISBN 978-0-8223-4163-5. 
  12. ^ Committee of the Judiciary (1999). "Religious Liberty" (PDF). United State Senate. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  13. ^ Hamilton, Marci (2005). God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 150. 
  14. ^ National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (2008). "National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report" (PDF). 
  15. ^ "Bureau of Justice Assistance – Second Chance Act – Partner Perspectives and Links". www.bja.gov. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  16. ^ "Why Can't We End Mass Incarceration?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  17. ^ "Email Advocacy". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  18. ^ "300,000 Kids of Inmates to Receive Christmas Gifts, Bibles From Parents Despite Separation". www.christianpost.com. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  19. ^ "Prison Fellowship: Our Approach to Prison Ministry". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  20. ^ "In-Prison Ministry". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  21. ^ Kafer, Krista (January 2014). "Redemption, Restoration, and Reconciliation" (PDF). Colorado Christian University. Retrieved February 11, 2017. 
  22. ^ Zoukis, Christopher (2014). College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons. McFarland. p. 225. ISBN 978-0786495337. 
  23. ^ "Inside Journal Prison Newspaper". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  24. ^ "Warden Exchange Program Details". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  25. ^ "Warden Exchange Advisory Panel". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 

External links