New Documentary on Role of Faith in Prisons


A member of the PLUS program at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., works on a quilt – one of several stories told in EthicsDaily.com's documentary on faith and prisons. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

EthicsDaily.com has released a new documentary on prisons and faith – "Through the Door," a title that highlights the gate through which Christians walk to visit those in prison and from which emerge those whom Christians should welcome back into society.

The documentary explores the initiatives of churches and faith-based organizations in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Interviewees speak to the issues of prescription drug abuse, addiction, mental health, the role of religious volunteers and chaplains, and the often-overlooked stresses of prison officials.

Stories of redemption and hope run through the documentary.

"What we found in producing the documentary is a convergence of cooperation across denominational and theological boundaries to address the prison issue. It is one place where houses of faith are making a measurable difference for the common good," said Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

One documentary story of hope relates to an unexpected program at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., where offenders, in a special unit with faith and character tracks, make high quality quilts to give back to their community for the harm they've done.

Another story involves the Nashville-based prison ministry for women, The Next Door, that seeks to meet the abundant needs of women released from prison – helping women stay away from the environments that contributed to their incarceration, job training, parenting programs, mental health treatment and more.

In a state where the recidivism rate for women may reach 60 percent, women who remain with The Next Door's program for more than 90 days have a recidivism rate of 20 percent, a remarkable achievement.

In a special interview, former president Jimmy Carter noted, "the natural inclination on the part of all Americans now to treat the prisons as primarily a place for punishment."

This inclination without an "emphasis on rehabilitation and freedom has been a serious departure from basic teachings of Jesus Christ," said Carter.

Other interviewees speak to the tension between retributive (punishment only) and restorative (rehabilitation) justice.

Still other interviewees discuss the nation vis-à-vis its having the world's highest incarceration rate – while almost 80 percent of U.S. citizens identify with Christianity.

Two versions of the documentary appear on a single DVD: a short version (28 minutes) is designed for a public forum while a long version (53 minutes) is designed to be used in churches as a moral education resource over a four-week period.

A discussion guide with supplemental resources is available at the website EthicsDaily.com, from which the documentary may also be ordered.

EthicsDaily.com, a division of the Baptist Center for Ethics, serves as the imprimatur under which the documentaries are produced.

As a leading producer of faith-based documentaries, EthicsDaily.com's most recent documentary, "Gospel Without Borders," explored the plight of the undocumented and what churches were doing to address the immigration issue.

Underwritten largely by the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, it was distributed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to every bishop, encouraging them to use the documentary in their parishes.

The documentary has been widely used in Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches.

The documentary "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims" aired on more than 130 ABC-TV stations.

"Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism" won the best documentary award at the International Black Film Festival of Nashville.

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Tags: EthicsDaily Staff, Prison Ministry, Prisons, Through the Door


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