It is estimated that 45.6% of all released prisoners reoffend within two years alone. This figure varies state by state, but every state sees more than a third of ex-prisoners back in the system within two years.
Returning back to society is much harder than it may seem. There is always a complex array of factors that influence a person’s propensity to reoffend. Some of the most significant issues include age, education, employment, aboriginal status, and mental health.
Why does it matter?
Preventing reoffending is economically beneficial for the Australian community. The national operating expenditure on prisons in Australia was $3.9 billion in the 2017/2018 financial year (excluding capital costs). This is equivalent to $94,000/inmate p.a.
With an estimated 44.8% of 47,000 released prisoners returning to prison within two years, this presents a great financial burden on the economy.
It begs the question, then, what alternative measures would be more beneficial to prisoners and the wider Australian community?
Prison Fellowship Australia was privileged to take part in the 2019 Actuarial Hackathon, an event sponsored by the Actuarial Institute, Finity Consulting, and Pacific Life Re. We conducted research to discover the economic benefit of reducing recidivism by a mere 1% (approximately 500 ex-prisoners).
The study took into account:
- Direct Costs: the cost to the system of holding inmates
- Productivity Costs: lost productivity of inmates and their support network
- Other Costs: including non-financial costs and support programs
- Release Costs: the costs associated with the initial release of a prisoner
These are the variable costs associated with operating the prisons borne by the government (and therefore the taxpayers).
A reduction in recidivism of 1% would save approximately $40.6 million p.a.
This is the value lost due to incarceration in the form of salary and payroll tax borne by the inmates and the government.
Prisoners would otherwise be employed, creating approximately $118-173/day per person on average. (This includes paid and unpaid work).
However, prisoners also create value during imprisonment through employment and community work. This offsets the value loss by an estimated $52-73/day.
When extrapolated over an average prison sentence, this equates to $12.1-18.3 million p.a.
Non-financial (economic) costs of crime refer to the time, energy, and resources diverted. While difficult to measure accurately, it is still estimated to be $96.7 million.
Certain post-release costs can be considered unproductive if they do not produce the required outcome of preventing recidivism. These include: parole and supervision, housing services, legal services, employment services. (Other release costs have not been included: support groups and counselling, drug and alcohol programs, training and mentoring programs, childcare assistance).
Unproductive release costs equate to a minimum of $8,500 per inmate.
It is difficult to get an accurate gauge on the non-financial and release costs. However, even if only considering the reduction in direct and productivity costs, reducing recidivism by 1% equates to nearly $60 million p.a. saving to the Australian economy.
Prison Fellowship remains committed to working with Corrections Departments, chaplaincy services, and faithful volunteers in order to engage meaningfully with prisoners and others affected by crime. Prison visitors and restorative justice programs offer the transformative love of Jesus, targeting the heart behind the crime. We trust in a patient God, who desires that none should perish, but that all might come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Joanna Mann, Staff Writer
Dear Prison Fellowship,
In your latest letter, with survey, you said you would like to get to know your supporters better. So I am writing this letter in response.
I do not consider myself a great supporter of Prison Fellowship as I have many monthly financial commitments. However, I have supported Prison Fellowship since its early days.
[Many years ago] I witnessed an accident involving Owen Davidson*. He was riding a stolen motor bike and crashed into an oncoming car at a T-intersection. He lay for a time on the road in front of my stationary car. (I was waiting for the car to pass that he hit as he sped past me). I thought he looked like a person no one could love. (Isn’t it strange the thoughts that enter your mind). Straight away God spoke to me and said, “I want you to pray for this person that he would come to know that I love him and that I can make something good & beautiful of his life.” I began to pray for him not knowing who he was. Nearly a year later I was summoned to appear at his court case, but in the end, I didn’t need to attend as he pled guilty. I then knew his name though.
When [a serious crime received significant media coverage], Owen’s name was mentioned on the news & I checked and sure enough he was the person I had continued to pray for.
I guess it’s nearly 30 years I have prayed for Owen. I never see any results but I know God doesn’t send us on fools’ errands and one day Owen will know how much God loves him, and God will “restore to him the years the locusts have eaten”.
So yes I am interested in Prison Fellowship ministry and give every now and then. I believe it is a wonderful ministry.
I am 83 years old and have 2 children and 7 grandchildren.
Blessings on your ministry, volunteers, and prisoners.
Yours in Christ,
Unbeknownst to Elsa, two Prison Fellowship volunteers have been visiting Owen regularly, since he entered prison. The beauty of the body of Christ is that each part has a vital role in the Great Commission. Without both prayer and action, the work of Prison Fellowship would be ineffective. Praise God for his faithfulness to Owen and for raising up workers for the harvest, both in prisons and in prayer.
*Names have been changed
To find out more about Prison Fellowship’s annual Week of Prayer, go to https://prisonfellowship.org.au/week-of-prayer/
September 8 to 15 is Prison Fellowship’s annual Week of Prayer. Please put this week in your calendar and use these prayer points as part of your daily devotional.
There are still some availabilities in every state for guest speakers – contact your local State office to organise a speaker for your church or connect group!
“I was chained, my hands to my feet. My value was minus 300. When you get to that point you don’t feel like you are worth anything.” Monty’s arrest was a painful wakeup call. “There was no Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Maybe this was Plan K?! I realised I let everybody down, but God can change my life.”
Born in Colombia, Monty grew up with a religious background, but he didn’t have a relationship with God. “I got involved with a drug cartel. I was kind of broken, I had a big depression, and sometimes had thoughts of suicide.”
It was his involvement in the cartel that led to Monty’s arrest.
“In Proverbs 28:13 it says, ‘If you confess your sins, you will find mercy.’ We don’t deserve mercy but the just work of God is that he must punish sin. I gave my life to God and asked for strength to go through it. I pled guilty and was given a good outcome but didn’t give anybody up.” Monty says that according to justice he could have received 25 years imprisonment. In that moment he received a fair but merciful, reduced sentence.
In prison, he took the chance to rebuild his faith. “My walk with Jesus has been the most important thing for me.” Monty applied to be part of a program where he could mentor young offenders. “It was a miracle that I made it to that jail,” he says. In his role, he realised there was no chapel service in the prison. He discussed the dilemma with the prison chaplain, who connected him with Prison Fellowship. Monty was offered the chance to run The Prisoner’s Journey course.
“There’s a lot of people you meet in jail who are praying a lot, but it’s like a bargaining system.” It might be surprising to know that prayer is common in prison. Prayer without hope, however, is a dark place to live.
“You know ‘normal religion’ is complicated with big words. But The Prisoner’s Journey is like story-telling. It makes the gospel simple. Who is Jesus, why did he come, what does it mean for me. We have a heart problem, so grace is a gift you can receive or not.” Monty has loved watching as fellow prisoners begin to understand.
“The week I love is the lesson about grace. I love it when you give the guys a list of who you think can get into heaven [based on their life]. When you come to the answer that none of them are going, they all drop their jaw to the floor! There is nothing you can do to save yourself.” Only grace.
“Some people can’t believe someone loves them enough to die for them. Many of these people have been betrayed or let down, so to hear someone loves them changes their life. In the last two months, three people here have committed suicide, so when you talk about life and death, we are talking real business. This is the pinnacle, to tell somebody we love them enough to meet with them and talk to them about Jesus. If you are donating you have faith, but you can’t even imagine how life-changing it is for people to receive what you are supporting. God is good, I’m telling you!”
“How many camps have you been to?”
“Well I’ve been going since I was 8 years old and I’m 17 now, so it’s been quite a while…”
Couper says he didn’t expect much when he first started going to camp, but it had a lasting impact in his life.
I asked him the best thing about being on camp.
“All the support I got,” he said. “Everyone knows why you’re there but not the specifics of what’s going on, so it’s a big safe space.”
Camp for Kids is designed for children who have one or more parents in prison. It gives kids a chance to get away from ‘normal life’ for a time, and to spend some time with positive role models and other children who understand their situation.
When asked what was hard about camp, Couper says it is largely the same as the best thing. “Opening up. You’re not sure what other people are going to think, but it’s just a safe space. Especially when I was young, there was a lot of help for me to learn to tell my story. It’s not as hard to talk about anymore. And if you feel comfortable telling your story you can just go for gold!”
Learning to share and be vulnerable was a big step for Couper, but it helped him to process his situation and family life.
Now, Couper is a junior leader, and has been on many camps helping kids like him to process their own stories.
“I enjoy being a leader a little bit more than being a camper. It’s great being a role model for the kids. Last year one of the kids, Toby*, started his first camp saying he hated it and wanted to go home. By the end of camp, he said, ‘oh, I’ll see how I feel about coming on camp next year…’ This year he came back and was much better behaved. When you get kids who are very misbehaved, you notice it on the first day, but by the last day you wouldn’t even recognise them!”
We talked about the donors who make camp possible, and what Couper might say to the people who gave financially towards his camp experiences.
“You’re doing a huge thing for people who definitely need it. All the kids appreciate it more than anyone understands. They should keep donating, if they can!”
When I asked Couper what the best camp activities are, and any stories he might have, Couper said, “Everything is amazing! Every kid loves the quad bikes, because it’s different to everyday life. The flying fox and giant swing still make me nervous by how high they are, but as a leader you just put on a brave face for the kids and say, ‘it’s not that bad!’”
Now finished high school, Couper is exploring what his future holds. He is planning to study as a personal trainer, and then move into P.E. teaching.
“I used to think teachers suck and that I would never be a leader and teaching is horrible. But on my last camp everyone was like, ‘You’re so patient with the kids’. I realised I like helping kids. It wasn’t only because of camp, but it did influence my decision.”
*Name has been changed.
Frank* says God brought him back to prison. After meeting God in one of his earlier stints behind bars, Frank showed all the signs of a changed man. But the pressures of life outside found him surrounded by the old temptations of alcohol and other substances. While some people might be discouraged to see Frank back in prison, volunteer Andrew sees a man who has actually taken steps forward.
“In himself he recognises the change in his life,” Andrew says. “He used to have tattoos across his face that said awful things, but he’s gone and got them lasered off. The other day he lifted up his shirt to proudly show me that now he has ‘Jesus Christ is king’ on one side of his chest and ‘the Word made flesh’ on the other.”
Andrew knows that often the Christian walk has set-backs and mistakes, but that God’s grace doesn’t waver. He sees Frank’s progress and has hope for his future.
When asked what excites him about his future with Prison Fellowship, Andrew says he can’t wait to be part of developing more post-release support. “So often these guys say, ‘last time I was in prison…’ I want to jump in that gap. I want them to say, ‘this is the last time I will be in prison’. I’d love to be that support team for them.”
While post-release support has a great deal of challenges, Andrew is excited to see Prison Fellowship grow to be able to facilitate more of such support.
“I love Prison Fellowship. I have even adopted their statement of faith for myself, and I watch the videos about Chuck Colson every year.”
Sharing the good news of Jesus in prison has been impactful even for Andrew personally. “I feel equipped in the sense that you always see your weakness and need for God, but I had not even a scrap of fear visiting prison. I didn’t feel I had to learn how to go and mix with a prisoner. I love these guys so much I can’t wait to walk in those doors. I want to show them unjudgemental love, that what they have done doesn’t even come into my mind, and I see them how God sees them. It has made me appreciate even more the wonder of what Jesus did for us. I’ve lived quite a sheltered life, but this has opened my eyes to just how kind and merciful God is.”
Andrew is thankful for donors who support these relationships in prison. “Encourage them,” he says. “I know what it’s like to come to a big month of bills, but God is using Prison Fellowship donors in an amazing way. Keep it up. I am so thankful for Prison Fellowship and who they are, and give God all the praise for that.”
*Name has been changed