". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Released from Darkness: Why Effective Criminal Rehabilitation Requires a Christian Worldview

April 20, 2024

When I was a little girl, my mom and grandma would volunteer to go into prisons and cook meals for the incarcerated. They would tell me and my brother stories of these experiences. I remember my grandma saying, “I was never afraid. They are just people. God loves them, and they need Jesus.”

The heart of the gospel is freedom. We all were captives until Jesus released us from the darkness of sin and its penalty of death. Our own freedom from darkness should stir us to compassion for the criminal who faces physical captivity as well as spiritual captivity.

Isaiah 61:1b says, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Isaiah is prophesying about Jesus’s work on the cross that releases from the darkness of sin’s bondage every person who puts their faith in Him. The physical release of a person from prison means little without the spiritual release of that person from sin.

America’s criminal justice system massively fails in rehabilitating criminals in a way that equips them to stay out of jail after release. According to Prison Fellowship, 600,000 people are released from American prisons per year. Two-thirds of them are re-arrested within three years. One and a half million American children have at least one parent in prison today. Promoting healthy criminal rehabilitation is part of being pro-family. Addressing the roots of repeat criminal behavior — poverty, poor education, and unhealthy relationships — helps strengthen American families.

A secular worldview seeks to solve poverty through government welfare programs. This shifts responsibility to the government and has increasingly led to a culture of entitlement. A Christian worldview on the other hand promotes charity from church members.

While a sincere Christian may also support certain welfare programs, they cannot shift all responsibility to care for the poor and imprisoned to the government. The Bible emphasizes personal generosity freely given rather than taxed “generosity” enforced by the state. Freely chosen charity fosters gratitude, encourages generosity, and connects people with a community that demonstrates love. Government welfare cannot do that.

We also find problems in the secular approach to education. Mainstream secular education promotes expressive individualism and far-left ideology. Dangerous woke ideology sows confusion and selfishness. It elevates the self, especially the mind, demeans physical realities, and downplays personal accountability. A lack of wisdom and self-control and an overabundance of pride encourages transgressive behavior.

In contrast, a Christian worldview starts with God rather than the self as the arbitrator of reality. Christian education acknowledges God’s existence and God’s laws as the first principles. Everything else flows from those truths. Christianity roots wisdom in the fear of the Lord and calls for repentance. Biblical education teaches wisdom, self-restraint, humility, and personal accountability for one’s actions.

The inadequacy of a secular worldview in criminal rehabilitation is most pronounced in its approach to relationships. The mainstream secular worldview devalues traditional marriage and family structures. It places self-interest at the heart of human relationships by promoting messages such as “do what’s best for you” and “your first priority is to yourself.” The results of a self-centered social approach include broken marriages, children born without a committed mother and father, and feelings of isolation among youth.

Lacking a healthy home life and friendships can lead to anger and trust issues, isolation, depression, and anxiety. All these things make it more difficult for a troubled person to stay out of jail after release.

On the other hand, a Christian worldview emphasizes committed marriages, committed mothers, committed fathers, and relationships built on self-sacrificial love. Criminal rehabilitation programs guided by a Christian worldview connect people with a community that does not just want to support them financially, but also spiritually through prayer, worship, mentorship, and genuine friendship.

Many criminals have deep wounds that come from growing up in a dysfunctional home. The church can help heal these wounds by welcoming people into the family of God and loving them in a way that many criminals’ biological families failed to do. Additionally, wounds from childhood trauma cannot be fully healed without forgiveness, a key medicine that a secular worldview lacks.

Thankfully, we do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to providing Christian-led criminal rehabilitation programs, but we do need to support and expand these programs. Two Christian organizations leading the way in criminal rehabilitation are Prison Fellowship and Kairos Prison Ministry.

Christians should continue to care for the incarcerated by volunteering with Christian prison programs, voting for fair criminal justice policies, and praying for the imprisoned. We must proclaim the Good News that Jesus has set us free. In Him alone, all prisoners are released from darkness.

Natalie Spaulding is a Policy and Biblical Worldview intern at Family Research Council.