Officials across the nation are beginning to realize just how important faith can be in rehabilitating inmates, says the Arizona Republic. Advocates say just about every religion actually can change an inmate’s character and fundamental value system, instilling a different way of looking at the world and making decisions. “Inmates are understanding the value of connecting with their faith to help them turn their lives around, to find some meaning and some hope,” said Mike Linderman, administrator of pastoral services for the Arizona Department of Corrections. In Arizona, monthly religious services have increased nearly 56 percent, and an estimated 9,000 inmates attend.
Multifaith gatherings provide a weekly meeting time for inmates who are increasingly adhering to less common faiths like Wicca, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In all, 60 religions are practiced by inmates. In addition, mentors work with inmates before their release and connect them to a faith community that will continue to offer friendship, spiritual guidance and help finding housing and jobs when they are back on the streets. At the Eyman prison in Florence, Chaplain Phil Kelley makes his rounds five days a week. Donning a stab vest and goggles for protection, Kelley goes cell to cell talking religion and answering questions about Scriptures. Arizona’s prisons house more than 33,500 inmates; all but about 4 percent will some day be released. Since coming to Arizona nearly three years ago, Schriro has been implementing a “parallel universe,” where inmates engage full time in activities that mirror those of the free world. Spirituality, with education and job training, has become a key part of that. The goal in coming years is to involve at least half of all inmates in religious programs. The annual budget for religious services is $1.7 million.