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A Guide to Prison Outreach and Volunteer Ministry Opportunities in Arkansas

As of July 2021, the US is the country with the highest number of incarcerated people globally (almost 2.1 million inmates, according to Statista).

Furthermore, Arkansas is in the top 5 US states with the highest number of individuals in prison, with an incarceration rate of 942 per 100,000 people. 

In an attempt to increase public safety and reduce the cost of corrections, in 2016, the Arkansas Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force ran a two-year assessment of the state’s criminal justice system.

As a result, the system implemented several policies that help authorities identify people who are most likely to re-offend and improve the sentencing standards. 

However, most people who are unfortunate to get behind bars are not beyond redemption. They made a mistake and have paid for it according to the laws imposed by society.

Still, many lose connection with the outside world while in the system.  When it’s time to regain their place as free people, they struggle with finding a job and decent living conditions. 

That’s why, in states all over the country, there are various prison outreach programs and volunteering opportunities for anyone who wants to help people in need. Arkansas also has a few great programs, but it may be difficult to identify them without proper guidance.

To make things easier, we will have a look at how these programs work and list some of the most well-known ones.

Why a Prison Outreach Program? 

Most of these programs are created to help men and women who complete their time in prison reintegrate into society. Furthermore, some programs also reach out to families and try to lend a hand by making sure the inmates maintain a connection with their loved ones and vice-versa.

Due to changes in prison capacities, more inmates are often moved from one facility to another. This can result in losing contact with the family and friends that don’t have the means to keep track of these changes.

One way to help people stay in contact from both sides of the system is to help them find each other. An outreach program can help families perform a lookup for inmates in Arkansas or other states to find out where their loved ones were transferred. 

Lastly, some programs work with inmates while in prison and help them start their rehabilitation before they are released. This way, when they get out, the chances of relapse are minimal. 

Volunteer ministry
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Where Can You Ask for Help in Arkansas?

Given Arkansas’s high incarceration rate, quite a few outreach programs also accept volunteers. Some of these programs are available across the US, and many are supported and promoted by local ministries. 

Here are a few of them:

The Prison Fellowship Organization

This is the world’s largest Christian nonprofit organization created to help prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. The organization is available worldwide, but it is very active in the US, and any American citizen can reach them.

They work with specialists and volunteers and have several in-prison programs such as 

  • Prison Fellowship Academy
  • Prison Fellowship Connection Classes 
  • Create: New Beginnings
  • Hope Events

They believe that local communities become safer when lives are restored and families get stronger. Specialists also advocate for a more lenient criminal justice system that pays more attention to the people it affects. 

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention

This organization offers, among others, jail and prison ministry services for inmates in all 75 counties of Arkansas. The organization works with volunteers. A basic training program is available for county and city jail ministry to anyone who wants to get involved. 

They also help volunteers get in prisons as volunteer ministries, coordinated by the local prison chaplain. Plus, they help those interested in becoming mentors for inmates get in contact with the proper authorities from the Arkansas Department of Correction. 

The Pathway to Freedom Organization

As a Christian nonprofit organization, the Pathway to Freedom works with the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). It provides support programs for people in prison (an 18-month pre-release residential program) and people who just got out (12 months of mentoring and support).

Their main goal is to help both families and inmates re-accommodate to regular life while also maintaining communities safer. 

Their programs try to get communities involved in helping offenders change and improve their behavior. The system allows volunteers to get involved every step of the way and help by either becoming mentors or employers of those who get released (they have partnerships with various local businesses). 

Do Prison Outreach Programs Work?

It’s easy to have an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset regarding inmates and their problems.  We need to take a moment and reflect upon our justice system.

While it is well-designed in some aspects, it’s also lacking in options for people’s reintegration into society.

Also, we tend to forget that having a loved one behind bars is often challenging for families. It is hard enough to live with the idea that someone you care for is separated from society. However, many of those left behind need financial and moral support. 

This is why prison outreach programs exist. They help families cope with the idea while also creating opportunities for people who want to get involved trying to deal with a real-life problem.

Sure, not everyone will manage to straighten their behavior and become productive members of society. However, most people deserve a second chance. This is exactly what prison outreach programs and volunteers try to create.

Featured Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash