It was a Good Year for Faith-based Prison Programs
By Hugh MacMillan
Tallahassee Democrat, December 8, 2011
This year may be remembered as the one when the Florida prison system really did begin to make some fundamental progress.
One key reason is the sustained presence of more and more prison volunteers whose patient good work is helping prisoners to help themselves through faith- and character-based programs. Many of the volunteers are young, bright college students. Many are retired teachers and social workers with a lifetime of true service and skills.
Horizon Communities in Prison is a tax-exempt nonprofit Florida corporation established by Kairos Prison Ministry to sponsor and support programs in prisons to prepare inmates for re-entry into society. Pilot re-entry programs established at Tomoka Correctional Institution (1999) and Wakulla Correctional Institution's faith and character-based facility (2006) have built a good record, utilizing community volunteers and inmate facilitators who work with a difficult inmate population.
The Department of Corrections and Horizon have worked together to build a program that has been free of legal challenges and successful in recruiting volunteers from various faith-based and secular institutions.
The 2011 Legislature embraced this faith- & character-based prison initiative by the passage by unanimous vote of the House and Senate of CS/HB369 by Rep. Rouson with 12 co-sponsors including the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate companion bill was CS/SB 2010, co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice committee and Senators Braynon and Smith.
Ch.944.803, Florida Statutes - as now revised and strengthened- recognizes that prisoners are an essential human resource for positive change inside Florida prisons requiring that “within faith- and character-based institutions of the state correctional system, peer-to-peer programming shall be allowed, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, literacy instruction and other activities, when appropriate.”
The fiscal note for the use of volunteers and inmate peer leaders inside prisons is nearly zero. And, as we are learning at Wakulla CI, Tomoka CI and other faith- and character-based programs, the outcomes are positive in a number of respects.
A prison with a more positive environment inside is a safer place to live and a safer place to work. And an inmate who transitions back into the community with solid plans and skills obviously can benefit himself and his family. Importantly, this ex-offender is also a win/win for public safety and prison cost containment.
In addition to a unanimous vote on the legislation, the 2011 Legislature included an investment of $500,000 for DOC Chaplaincy Services “for programs and services to diminish growth of the offender population.” These funds are being used to strengthen and expand the successful faith- and character-based programs now in place at Tomoka CI, Wakulla CI and other prisons, primarily for non-recurring costs of basic materials and supplies used to sustain and expand successful faith- and character-based programs.
Horizon is a collaborator with DOC in this success story with the Computer Lab, Quest, REEFS and other programs. The focus is education and transition success. At Wakulla CI approximately 20 active Horizon community volunteers now work with DOC staff and inmate peer facilitators on various education and transition programs, such as:
- Computer Lab: basic computer literacy, GED prep assistance and individual work/study support
- Quest – 14 classes of facilitated small groups designed to address issues such as positive life choices, anger, life skills, parenting from prison and restorative justice.
- The Chess Program
- REEFS (Realizing Educational Emotional and Financial Smarts) – financial literacy and responsibility, which includes: Life Mapping; Developing a Business Concept; Small Business Concepts; Personal Financial Management; Personal Investment Management; Credit and Debt Management; Employability and Bookkeeping.
The REEFS materials and the Quest Supplemental Workbook have been written by inmates at Wakulla CI and are printed by inmates at Calhoun CI at a cost of approximately $2 per book, paid by Horizon from tax-deductible contributions. Each student receives his own personal book.
To show one example, here is how the Life Mapping course is described:
“Life Mapping This program teaches the student how to set a primary goal for his life and develop personalized strategies for achieving that goal. What will you do with your time in prison? Waste it or invest it? What will you do after prison? Where will your life be in five years after you leave? The choice is yours. Life Mapping will help you take control of your life and the direction it is heading.”
Please support this promising public safety initiative.