Communities of Restoration are 24-hour, 7-day-a-week intensive prison regimes operated by Prison Fellowship in eleven countries. They are designed to reduce offending behavior through character-focused, faith-based programming. They focus on restoration of offenders to themselves, their families, their victims, their communities and their creator by allowing them to experience and participate in responsible, supportive and caring relationships.
What are Communities of Restoration?
Communities of Restoration operate inside prisons. Prisoners volunteer to be part of the program after receiving an orientation in the nature and focus of the program. Programming focuses on reducing attitudinal risk factors that contribute to offending behavior through development of character, relational skills, family and life skills, and faith.
While Communities of Restoration are "faith-based" (Christian ecumenical), they are open to persons of any or no faith. All that is required is that they be willing to respect the values and to explore the implications of Christianity as a response to the spiritual nature of humans. They are not required to be Christians to enter – or to graduate from – the program.
The staff is made up of qualified professionals and trained community volunteers. A key feature of Communities of Restoration is the inclusion of a broad base of programming provided by recognized community groups and organizations.
They have a track record of successfully changing prisoner attitudes and behavior. Research in Brazil and the USA has demonstrated that the program reduces recidivism.
Where did Communities of Restoration come from?
In 1972, a small group of professionals, business people and retirees in the suburbs of Sao Paolo, Brazil, began visiting prisoners in their city to attend to their medical, psychological, educational, vocational and spiritual needs. For a period of fifteen years they developed a unique approach to prisoner rehabilitation that they call the APAC Methodology, named after the organization they established, Associacao de Protecao e Assistencia aos Condenados (Association for Protection and Assistance of Convicts).
This methodology was so effective in reducing repeat offending that government officials began turning entire prisons over to them to operate. News spread to other countries and the approach has now been adapted and replicated throughout Latin America, in North America, Europe, and the Pacific. The programs operate under various names from country to country; we refer to them as Communities of Restoration.
What are Communities of Restoration like?
Communities of Restoration are holistic in addressing all aspects of the lives of prisoners, and in permeating all aspects of the prison environment. Prisoners advance through three phases:
- In Phase One, prisoners learn to live in community. They engage in creative work, and begin to reflect on their lives. Trained volunteers and administrative staff assess their needs and abilities and create tailored plans with the prisoners.
- In Phase Two, prisoners are given opportunities to serve others. They help administer and maintain the prison facility, teach other prisoners, and serve in a variety of leadership positions. They engage in productive work in prison industries as part of their preparation for eventual freedom.
- In Phase Three, prisoners work in the community during the day and return to prison at night. This allows them to confront real-world challenges and temptations while they still have a supportive community in the COR.
This support does not end with their release. Volunteers regularly contact them as they make the full transition into society as contributing members.
While there are important programmatic aspects to CORs, their strength stems from particular values and principles as much as specific practices. The founders of APAC call the combination of values and practices, 'human valorization' – the process of helping prisoners understand their own great value as well as that of other human beings.
What is human valorization?
Human valorization involves treating program participants with respect and care. This is done in practical ways: they are referred to by their proper names instead of numbers or prison nicknames, and their medical, dental treatment, legal, educational, nutritional and other needs are addressed.
Human valorization helps participants discover the meaning of human dignity and their own value as having been created by God. This is done through individual and group discussions, lectures, artistic expression and meaningful work.
When basic human needs are met and a sense of dignity are restored, Catholic and protestant volunteers provide religious services and demonstrates the love of God in practical ways.
Is there evidence that Communities of Restoration work?
Several promising studies suggest that the methodology works. One used records from the original APAC facility, Humaita Prison, just outside Sao Paolo, Brazil. Two others were of the first Community of Restoration in the United States, called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program.
The first study compared the re-arrest rates of Humaita prisoners over three years with those from another model prison. It found that only 5% a year were rearrested, half the rate of the comparison program. Those who did get in trouble had fewer arrests and were less likely to be locked up again than the other program.1
In 2003, two reports were released based on a six-year study of the IFI programme in Texas. Both found that prisoners who completed the program had significantly lower recidivism rates than did comparison groups. The studies found that IFI volunteers were a key to success and that the prisoners' attitudes changed to a more pro-social perspective.2
Where are Communities of Restoration being used?
2Tony Fabelo, Brittani Trust, and Michael Eisenberg, "Initial Process and Outcome Evaluationof the InnerChange Freedom Initiative: The Faith-Based Prison Program in TDCJ", Criminal Justice Policy Council, February 2003.
Byron Johnson and David B. Larson. The InnerChange Freedom Initiative: A Preliminary Evaluation of a Faith-Based Prison Program, Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, June 2003.