Prison Fellowship

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This article is about the United States organization. For the International umbrella organization, see Prison Fellowship International.
Prison Fellowship
Founded 1976
Founder Chuck Colson
Focus Prison outreach
Leader James J. Ackerman
Slogan Remember Those in Prison

Prison Fellowship is the nation's largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform. Prison Fellowship brings restoration to those affected by crime and incarceration in all 50 states by facilitating prisoners' transformation, supporting prisoners' families and returning citizens, and advocating for a criminal justice system that reflects the God-given dignity and potential of each life. Through an awakening to new hope and life purpose, those who once broke the law are transformed and mobilized to serve their community, replacing the cycle of crime with a cycle of renewal.[1][2]


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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5][6]



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.[7][8][9] Prison Fellowship has worked with members of Congress to pass the following pieces of criminal justice reform legislation: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993),[10] the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (2000),[11] the Prison Rape Elimination Act (2000),[12] the Second Chance Act (2008),[13] the Fair Sentencing Act (2010),[14] and the 21st Century Cures Act (2016)[15] as well as a variety of state-level criminal justice reforms.

Angel Tree[edit]

Angel Tree is a program of Prison Fellowship that serves incarcerated parents by mobilizing the church to share the love of Christ with their children and families.[16] Every Christmas, Angel Tree mobilizes the church to minister to the 2.8 million children of prisoners by delivering a gift and the Gospel message on behalf of their incarcerated parents. In addition, partner churches meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs prisoners’ families through year-round ministry such as camping and mentoring. 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.[17]

In Prison Ministry[edit]

Prison Fellowship staff and over 11,000 volunteers provide Bible studies, discipleship courses, life-skill classes, mentorship opportunities, and reentry programs in hundreds of correctional facilities each day.[18]

Hope Events[edit]

Hope Events are one- or two-day evangelism events that occur in prisons across the country in prisons. These events feature a variety of speakers and musicians that seek to provide individuals who are incarcerated with the chance to respond to the message of the Gospel and take the next step in joining a faith community while in prison.[19]

Inside Journal[edit]

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.[9] 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.[20][21] Inside Journal is provided in both English and Spanish.[22]


Academies were previously known as the InnerChange Freedom Initiative.

The Urban Ministry Institute[edit]

Warden Exchange[edit]

The Warden Exchange is a seven-month long program that equips wardens to be transformative leaders in their facilities and in the wider corrections community. The program incorporates weekly live video conferences and three live, in-person residential conferences which provide wardens from across the country with intensive training in best practices from some of the brightest thought leaders in criminal justice, law, business, and education. Participants graduate from the program with individualized action plans to bring change to their facilities and fulfill their legacy of building a safer, more rehabilitative prison culture.[23]

The programs advisor panel currently includes the following correctional thought leaders: Burl Cain, Pat Caruso, Alan Cropsey, Doug Dretke, Edmund Duffy, Randy Grounds, Robert Hood, and Reginald Wilkinson.[24]


  1. ^ "Prison Fellowship: Redeeming Prisoners Through Christ". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2015-12-17. 
  2. ^ ACA Corrections Marketplace
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Timeline: History of Prison Fellowship - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Bryon (2004). "Religious Programs and Recidivism Among Former Inmates in Prison Fellowship Programs: A Long-Term Follow-Up Study". Justice Quarterly. 21: 329–354. 
  7. ^ "Justice Reform and Public Policy - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  8. ^ "Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life» Blog Archive  » Prison Fellowship, Justice Fellowship". Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Committee of the Judiciary (1999). "Religious Liberty" (PDF). United State Senate. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  11. ^ Hamilton, Marci (2005). God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 150. 
  12. ^ National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (2008). "National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report" (PDF). 
  13. ^ "Bureau of Justice Assistance - Second Chance Act - Partner Perspectives and Links". Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  14. ^ "Why Can't We End Mass Incarceration?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  15. ^ "Email Advocacy - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  16. ^ "Angel Tree Christmas - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2015-12-17. 
  17. ^ "300,000 Kids of Inmates to Receive Christmas Gifts, Bibles From Parents Despite Separation". Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  18. ^ "Prison Fellowship: Our Approach to Prison Ministry". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  19. ^ "In-Prison Ministry - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  20. ^ Kafer, Krista (January 2014). "Redemption, Restoration, and Reconciliation" (PDF). Colorado Christian University. Retrieved February 11, 2017. 
  21. ^ Zoukis, Christopher (2014). College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons. McFarland. p. 225. ISBN 978-0786495337. 
  22. ^ "Inside Journal Prison Newspaper - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
  23. ^ "Warden Exchange Program Details - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 
  24. ^ "Warden Exchange Advisory Panel - Prison Fellowship". Prison Fellowship. Retrieved 2017-01-14. 

External links[edit]