Faith-Based Programs Can Restore Accountability, Rehabilitation to Prisons

January 27, 2023

RFI Co-Founder and Senior Fellow Byron Johnson wrote an article published recently in The Dallas Morning News that takes a sober look at America’s correctional system and what is required to return correctional facilities “to their intended purpose of rehabilitation.” Johnson, also a Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, argues that he and his Baylor colleagues “are testing the theory that accountability, rightly understood, is an important tool” in bringing about renewed accountability in corrections. But their research takes an additional, and perhaps unexpected, turn in that they are examining the relationship between faith-based programs and accountability. He writes:

This project, funded by Templeton Religion Trust, is a multidisciplinary study bringing together philosophers, theologians, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and criminologists, to understand the relation between accountability and other human goods, including such virtues as conscientiousness, empathy, humility and gratitude. Research from this project is helping create a system of measurement that can help assess whether accountability truly helps criminal offenders change their behavior and improves their lives and those of others around them.

Accountability is usually understood in terms of holding a person or group — like public officials, corporations, teachers, and incarcerated individuals — accountable. Regrettably, terms like responsibility and accountability often conjure up negative connotations. But, a sense of accountability can also be embraced in a virtuous manner, and when this happens, it may be beneficial to individuals, families and the larger society. Those who embody this virtue welcome being accountable as desirable and beneficial. They are answerable, transparent and honest about their behavior, adjust their efforts based on feedback, want to be pushed to do their best, and recognize that they improve by being accountable.

Our current prison research documents the effects of faith-based programs on the mental, physical, social and spiritual well-being of offenders. We have found that prisoners who are themselves the beneficiaries of inmate-led field ministry, in turn, help other prisoners make positive and positive social changes. This new research is helping us understand how accountability may be linked with reconciliation, service to others, offender rehabilitation, identity transformation and the reduction of reoffending.

Read the full article: “Faith-Based Programs Can Restore Accountability, Rehabilitation to Prisons.”