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In this article, we will attempt to build a multi-dimensional vision of rehabilitation, based in Christian understandings of human nature, redemption, and community. By first exploring what rehabilitation means and why it is important, we will then survey three models of restoration and rehabilitation which can be instituted as programs offered within the incarceration system in order to promote the well-being of offenders. The first model, restorative justice, is a broad set of approaches which focuses on undoing the communal damage of crime by restoring the bonds of the community through restitution and reconciliation. The second approach is the Good Lives Model which undertakes offender rehabilitation based in the understanding that crime is an unhealthy way in which individuals pursue the good life. The third model consists of therapeutic communities which encourage their residents to find healing in community with other people, developing healthy prosocial practices which will help offenders re-enter society upon release. These are three secular models which have strong ties to Christian theological principles and can provide a path to structural reform of the corrections system. By instituting these programs of rehabilitation in conjunction with incarceration (or as an alternative), Christians can work to recover the mission of redemption which first shaped the modern penitentiary. Dr. Vincent Bacote is Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College (IL). Nathaniel Perrin is a recent graduate of Wheaton College (IL).


Even though we refer to it as the corrections system, incarceration does little to engender ideas of hope and restoration. By and large, many either see a prison as a cage to isolate the dregs of society or a horrifying space which holds friends or family members. Those who come out of prison are rarely regarded as future contributors to society. Chuck Colson’s testimony of redemption is one example of an exception.1 Colson, whose conversion was catalyzed by C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity prior to his Watergate scandal imprisonment, developed a deeper faith and commitment to ministry while in jail. Subsequent to his release he became a prominent evangelical figure after launching Prison Fellowship Ministries and participating in initiatives such as the ecumenical document Evangelicals and Catholics Together.2

While Colson’s impact is impressive on its own, it is hard to believe that he accomplished all this after prison. Most of the formerly incarcerated face a wide variety of limits after prison whether it be social isolation, economic need, dehumanization, but Colson was able to circumvent these problems through mobilizing his status and resources. So while Colson went on to greatness following prison, those who have neither his personal transformation or privilege will languish both in and after their time in prison.

America’s mass incarceration problem has long floated on the periphery of public consciousness but has often been overshadowed by concerns of crime or police brutality. But, despite the invisibility of incarceration’s workings, it is still a system for which each individual is morally responsible. This is especially pertinent in the United States whose distended incarcerated population sat at 1,561,500 in 2014.3 To put this figure in perspective, the American incarceration rate is more than two and a half times larger than the United Kingdom and Australia’s combined.4 Even though crime rates have been steadily decreasing since 2008, incarceration numbers have skyrocketed in the United States since the 1970s, only declining slightly in the past five years.5 Additionally, both the American criminal justice system and the living conditions of corrections facilities themselves have been condemned by the Human Rights Watch as inhumane.6

Discussions concerning prison reform have often focused on reducing the prison population while avoiding a surge in crime. While curtailing the incarceration population is important, it cannot be the sole consideration for repairing the system. By framing this issue in terms of reducing the number of those in prison, the human individuals who constitute that population can often get lost in the statistical morass. These solutions may be helpful starting points for disinfecting the wound, but they may not provide the substantive overhaul needed to heal the system as a whole. Broadly speaking, there are at least three ways the criminal justice system needs reform: (1) the judicial and legal process which has created over-incarceration and in racially disparate numbers, (2) the goals and structuring of incarceration itself which inflict more harm than good, and (3) the legally-constructed obstacles that the incarcerated face upon release.7 Although these three factors are interconnected in further exacerbating our incarceration problems, this article will only examine three ways in which rehabilitation programs can address the second problem.

When one considers the evidence, it is difficult not to conclude we have a deeply diseased corrections system. Beyond the morally suspect treatment of inmates, recidivism rates demonstrate that a problem exists. Within three years of release, 67 percent of ex-convicts will be re-arrested, and in five years that number will rise to 77 percent.8 Rather than helping reform criminals, prison seems to do more to increase recidivism rates than reduce them. For example. studies have shown that juvenile corrections introduce youth into cycles of crime, imprisoning drug users increases their chances of recidivism, and that prison violence encourages criminal tendencies following release.9 Previous attempts to solve this problem include the Three Strikes Law and other measures which extend sentences for those with previous convictions, keeping hardened criminals off the streets. This approach is a natural outworking of the “tough on crime” rhetoric maintained by both Republicans and Democrats for decades; is this a policy choice that is grounded in—or even compatible with—a Christian responsibility to love others?10

Answering this question requires a reflection on the theological reasoning undergirding Christian understandings of punishment. Gorringe argues these attitudes have consistently been grounded in a retributive theory of punishment shared by theologians ranging from Anselm and Aquinas to Calvin and Luther, that the state should use punishment to exact the just deserts of crime. In this lens, the state’s punishment of the individual is analogous to God’s righteous justice which punishes the sinners.11 As Snyder has argued, Christian theology has played a large role in fomenting the contemporary emphasis on retributive punishment and a “tough on crime” attitude.12

However, in order to rely upon this theory of punishment, one must take into account the historical evolution of criminal punishment. One major shift over time was presented in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish which narrated the transition from premodern, corporal punishment to the modern system of incarceration in the nineteenth century.13 Before the era of mass incarceration, punishment was both public and corporal, not private and “humanitarian” in its efforts to change the law-breaker. Because Calvin and Anselm formulated their theology of punishment under different historical circumstances, we need to understand how their arguments relate to our own contemporary context of mass incarceration before transposing them to our own time.

The modern penitentiary developed out of a Quaker experiment in the 1790s to provide a humane alternative to brutal, corporal punishment. By designating a place of isolation, the Quakers hoped that the criminal sinner would be brought to repentance through meditation and prayer (hence the name “penitentiary”). For the Quakers, incarceration was not primarily punitive but was designed to provide opportunities for the criminal’s repentance and redemption. This is one product of the humanitarian impulses of the new American Republic, codified by the constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,” which led to the institutionalization of the penitentiary throughout the nation. But with its increasingly widespread implementation, incarceration became bureaucratized, and the rehabilitative impulse which had initially guided the mission of the penitentiary slowly dissipated.14 Today, although the vestiges of religious language still provide our corrections system with terms like “penitentiary” and “cell,” they are empty labels deprived of their original religious meanings that would direct inmates toward redemption.15 And as Hauerwas explains, once that undergirding telos—that moral purposiveness—of rehabilitation disappeared from penitentiaries, prisons “could not help but become the hell holes they are today.”16

As its Quaker origins demonstrate, incarceration was rooted in Christian principles which strove for rehabilitation. But in the twenty-first century, prisons are a far cry from realizing this ideal. As Chuck Colson explains, “It is time for our society to banish once and for all that superficially appealing, conscience-salving myth that prisons rehabilitate. They do not.”17 This does not mean that we need to rewind the clock to reinstitute premodern, corporal punishment or, alternatively, that we should abolish retributive punishment altogether. Retribution and redemption are not mutually exclusive; they can be paired together through a rehabilitative, restorative justice that offers a future for criminals while providing just punishment for their past behavior. John Milbank articulates this when he argues that a community of faith cannot merely rely on alienating condemnation and punishment, it must offer opportunities of forgiveness and restitution.18 If we cannot extend such an offer to the criminal, then what distinguishes us from the debtor of Matthew 18 who refused to forgive the small debt of a fellow sinner when his own larger debt had been absolved? A criminal is no less human than non-criminals, and those with a clean legal record are no less sinners than those imprisoned for their wrongdoing. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, all have fallen short of the glory of God.19

This is not to say that Christians have completely neglected the needs of prisoners. Organizations such as Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries and Kairos Prison Ministry have reached out to inmates, extending to them the spiritually and emotionally rehabilitating hope of the gospel. While these private efforts have had a positive influence in inmates’ lives, Christians should not think they are restricted to these measures in order to help the incarcerated.20 Through advocating an overarching reform of the public incarceration system, Christians can both create a better environment for inmates as well as a place more amenable to the work of evangelism. With widespread sympathy for prison reform among evangelical leaders,21 the real question is: what changes should be made to fix the system?

This article will attempt to build a three-pronged vision of rehabilitation, based in Christian understandings of human nature, redemption, and community. By first exploring what rehabilitation means and why it is important, this article will then survey three models of restoration and rehabilitation which can be instituted as programs offered within the incarceration system that can better promote the well-being of the imprisoned. The first model, restorative justice, is a broad set of approaches which focuses on undoing the communal damage of crime by restoring the bonds of the community through restitution and reconciliation. The second approach is the Good Lives Model which undertakes rehabilitation based in the understanding that crime is an unhealthy way in which individuals pursue the good life. The third model consists of therapeutic communities which encourage their residents to find healing in community with other people, developing healthy prosocial practices which will help criminals re-enter society upon release. These are three secular models which have strong ties to Christian theological principles and can provide a path to structural reform of the corrections system. By instituting these programs of rehabilitation in conjunction with incarceration (or as an alternative), Christians can work to recover the mission of redemption which first shaped the modern penitentiary. Even if these goals of forgiveness and redemption may lose much of their theological grounding and force outside of the church in a secular public sphere, they can still provide a directive which can help realize political reform.

Some believe the best way to do this is through prison ministry and programs such as InnerChange Freedom Initiative which offer alternative correctional facilities that offer education and exposure to the gospel for inmates. However, IFI has faced repeated legal challenge on the grounds of violating the Constitution’s establishment clause that separates church and state, which in one court case meant the closure of its Iowa facilities because the program used public state funds.22 Despite the ambiguity which permeates the ongoing debates regarding the establishment clause, Christians do not by necessity need to win these legal battles in order to advance the cause of social justice. As Carl Henry wrote, the Christian “because of his opposition to evils ought to lend his endorsement to remedial efforts in any context not specifically anti-redemptive, while at the same time decrying the lack of a redemptive solution.”23 Regarding incarceration, this may mean, as Winnifred Sullivan points out to both sides, listening to the needs and voices of prisoners rather than reiterating the old debate over the establishment clause.24

Why are Christians limited to developing models of rehabilitation which could only work in a Christian environment? What prevents Christians from using their theological principles to find secular rehabilitation programs which can be adopted in the public sphere at both a state and federal level? Hauerwas offers a helpful insight in “Punishing Christians” where he explains, “What Christians have to offer our non-Christian brothers and sisters is not a better theory, but a practice of punishment that can be imitated.”25 Christians should not invest their energies in asserting a solely Christian theory of punishment and rehabilitation, hoping that non-Christians will concede to our demands. Instead, we should draw upon our theological principles in order to find a suitable practice of punishment, a redemptive program which can be advocated by secular reformers as well. By reflecting upon their rich biblical and theological heritage, Christians can help determine the best means of rehabilitating prisoners and retrieve the telos of incarceration. While this article will not enumerate specific policy changes, it will advocate particular programs which can promote prisoners’ rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating Rehabilitation

Before proposing any theological approaches to rehabilitation, it is important first to address the arguments used to dismiss rehabilitation as a viable form of treatment for criminals and discern what rehabilitation is. These criticisms are founded upon either (1) a suspicion of institutions of authority who could use rehabilitation as an insidious tool of social control or (2) a skepticism toward the efficaciousness of rehabilitation programs in general. As will be demonstrated, these critiques do not refute this article’s articulated vision of rehabilitation: a program of healing for criminals which promotes their well-being and reduces their chances of returning to crime.

Misgivings about rehabilitation can be rooted in a distrust of giving prisons the role of transforming people according to the designs of prison authority. Two notable proponents of this argument are Foucault and C. S. Lewis who, despite their differences, were both highly critical of scientific modernity and its application to criminal punishment. One of Foucault’s arguments in Discipline and Punish is that the prison is not really designed to reduce crime. As he explains, “For the observation that prison fails to eliminate crime, one should perhaps substitute the hypothesis that prison has succeeded extremely well in producing delinquency, a specific type, a politically or economically less dangerous [criminal.]”26 Foucault’s point is that the disciplinary objectives of incarceration are designed, not to prevent crime, but to create specific kinds of criminals whose existence serves the interests of those who wield power in modern society.27 For Foucault, rehabilitation is an authoritarian instrument of control incorporated into the penal system in order to discipline its subjects. By manufacturing delinquents who cycle in and out of prison, mass incarceration becomes a self-sustaining industry which in turn reinforces and strengthens current power structures.

From a different angle, C. S. Lewis offers a skeptical attitude toward “humanitarian” (rehabilitative) punishment in light of how it prevents justice and can be manipulated for malevolent purposes. In Lewis’s eyes, punishment should recognize individual moral agency in crime and respond to such wrongdoing through retribution. By contrast, rehabilitation fails to do this by “correcting” criminals to become good citizens. Furthermore, he notes that “if crime and disease are to be regarded as the same thing, it follows that any state of mind which our masters choose to call ‘disease’ can be treated as crime; and compulsorily cured.”28 Lewis believes the process of rehabilitation can easily be perverted as a dystopic instrument of normalization. By stamping out the dissenting tendencies in criminals, humanitarian punishment can ensure conformity, not to moral standards, but to the desires of the scientific elite.

Responding to Lewis and Foucault requires a clarification of how we define “rehabilitation.” Although the term has accumulated negative connotations over the past few decades, we are using the term “rehabilitation” to refer to healing by offering avenues for criminals’ improvement, preparing them for re-entry and reintegration in society. The intended meaning here is very distinct from how Lewis and Foucault have understood the term as a euphemistic label veiling the darker machinations of the prison-industrial complex. They conceive of rehabilitation as a clinical procedure which transmogrifies the individual into a submissive citizen or delinquent (And given current recidivism rates, this pessimistic conception of the prison unfortunately does seem true.) But such a process is not the result of rehabilitation programs within the prison; this is a product of how incarceration itself is structured. Our current corrections system does not embody the ideal of rehabilitation; it is far from it. True rehabilitation restores the person, through addressing their individual needs, giving them the right tools to participate in the larger community. Furthermore, in response to Lewis’s concerns about side-stepping justice, we are not arguing that rehabilitation should replace retributive justice but can be offered in conjunction with it. The disagreement here is primarily semantic, and by distinguishing rehabilitation from its more sinister associations and applications, it will become possible to articulate a vision for carceral reform.

Other skeptics carry doubts that rehabilitation can be effective, given empirical evidence suggesting such programs are useless for crime prevention. This viewpoint became popular during the 1970s when Robert Martinson published the landmark article “What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform.” Conducting a meta-analysis on various studies which surveyed criminal rehabilitation programs, Martinson argued that the findings of 231 different program studies had statistically insignificant effects on recidivism rates, and consequently, nothing had been proven to work.29 This argument caught the attention of popular media and soon became the cornerstone of anti-rehabilitation attitudes. Martinson’s claim that “with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism” was quickly construed as an argument that rehabilitation programs never can, nor will ever be able to work.30 Even though some questioned the validity of Martinson’s contention, noting that he only examined poorly implemented programs,31 it quickly became conventional wisdom accepted by both the right and left, a pessimism which caused a resurgence in “tough justice” policies.32 Even today, many individuals, including prison wardens, still hold doubts about the capabilities of rehabilitation programs to produce change.33

In the sphere of academia, the criminological debate on rehabilitation continued for decades before a general consensus emerged which affirmed the effectiveness of well-implemented, well-grounded rehabilitation programs in reducing recidivism rates.34 With the consensus of these meta-analyses, it should be safe to say that rehabilitation has finally been rehabilitated. So not only should one advocate for rehabilitation because it is a morally responsible response to crime, but also because its effects have demonstratively improved inmates’ lives as will be demonstrated later. No one can abandon the incarcerated to become a Sisyphus of recidivism; structural reform of the incarceration system can complement the efforts of prison ministry to bring a redemptive, restorative justice to those living in spiritual and physical chains.

Restorative Justice: An Antidote to the Act of Crime

Using purely retributive justice as a comprehensive program for responding to crime has a number of limitations. While punishment may exact the just deserts of crime, it does little more to remedy the injury created by the offense. Shipping felons off to prison may provide a vague sense of security for society in general, but there is no ultimate restoration or recovery. The incarcerated will still be trapped with a sense of guilt, bitterness, or denial, and victims will be forced to cope with a violated sense of security in addition to the damages of the crime. By isolating both parties from each other, incarceration does little to heal the impact of theft or violence or reknit the broken bonds of the local community. The wound is left to fester with the assumption that retributive imprisonment will be sufficient closure for every circumstance, but can more be done to promote healing?

One solution, which can be implemented either as an addition or an alternative to incarceration, consists of restorative justice programs designed to undo the social and emotional injuries of crime. Although “restorative justice” can vary with its particular instantiations in different cultures, it can generally be defined as a process in which both perpetrator and victim actively work to resolve the aftermath of a crime with the help of a facilitator.35 The specific procedures of restorative justice depend on the nature of the crime, but they generally reflect the objective of creating mutual understanding so that the perpetrator and victim can agree on a means of restitution while simultaneously developing possibilities for penitence and forgiveness. Through restorative justice, the crime’s perpetrator can realize that their behavior has harmed someone else, the victim can see the perpetrator’s desperation, both parties can speak to each other as human beings, and forgiveness can be extended in ways not possible in standard legal settings.

This dialogue can be conducted directly in person with the guiding presence of a facilitator or, in cases where the victim is traumatized, indirectly through written correspondence with the help of a mediator. In some cases, family or community members can be brought into the dialogue to provide their input, but these practices depend both on cultural context and the nature of the crime itself. What is essential for restorative justice is that both parties enter the discussion voluntarily and with a genuine interest in undoing the harmful impacts of the crime while respecting the wishes of the victim. There are certainly limitations to restorative justice, especially when parties may not be willing (or even emotionally able) to work together such as in cases of murder or sexual assault. Furthermore, domestic abuse situations can present difficulties for facilitators who may not be aware of the manipulation or threats lurking outside the reconciliation session.36 Nevertheless, restorative justice programs are a beneficial tool that provide possibilities for healing and forgiveness even if these potentialities are not always fully realized.37

In its conciliatory efforts, restorative justice can be an effective practice for mitigating the racial dimensions of mass incarceration. Despite the American population containing six times as many Caucasians as African-Americans, each demographic separately constitutes forty percent of the prison and jail population.38 It is undeniable that African-Americans are incarcerated at a disproportionately high rate relative to the general population. While Michelle Alexander argues that this is the result of implicitly racist drug laws, this does not account for the cases of those imprisoned for violent crime. This is where restorative justice may play a helpful role in reducing racial pain, conflict, and alienation present at each stage in our criminal justice system whether in arrests, trials, or sentencings.39

Whether or not the violence is directed against other African-Americans or members of any other race, restorative justice can be a helpful tool for healing animosity and tensions both within and between racial communities. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee used restorative justice to make the initial steps in undoing the hurt of racism and apartheid. Furthermore, it was also used following the Rwanda genocide to try to bring about reconciliation.40 It is possible that through implementing restorative justice programs here, that we may begin to undo the racial tensions here in the United States on an individual level. Instead of relying upon incarceration to increase the distance between African-Americans and Caucasians, isolating and dehumanizing the former in the process, restorative justice aims to recognize the humanity of both parties. By building human connection and developing a dialogue which can address the pain so often behind crime, restorative justice can help reverse the racial suspicion and distrust which plagues American society, but this is a thread which cannot be explored here.

Although restorative justice is derived from several different traditions ranging from the Navajo to the Maori to Hinduism, it also has a distinctly biblical heritage. Howard Zehr, who brought attention to restorative justice practices in his book Changing Lenses, drew extensively from Yoder’s study on the Hebrew concept of shalom.41 For Yoder, shalom (roughly translated as “peace”) played a central role in the Hebraic understanding of justice. Sin is not an atomistic transaction offense against a victim; it is the disruption of shalom throughout the entire community.42 Consequently, shalom could not be restored through retribution alone. Instead, restitution and reconciliation were essential to repair the social bonds of the community ravaged by sin and restoring shalom to the community.43 It is through this lens that restorative justice envisions a reknit community reconciled with the criminal rather than amputating them from society.44

Despite the good it can produce, restorative justice does have a number of limitations as mentioned above. What guarantee is there that perpetrators and victims would want to work out a resolution, and what prevents discussion from breaking down once it has started? What should be done with victimless crimes such as drug abuse? What if the same individual repeatedly offends, having to be restored multiple times? Although restorative justice may not be designed to deal with these obstacles, this does not mean that it is wholly ineffective, only that it is not entirely foolproof and can neglect the personal transformation needed for rehabilitation. Nonetheless, research has shown that restorative justice can be an effective response to violent crimes and theft, particularly in ensuring that first-time juvenile law-breakers do not get caught up in a system of delinquency and recidivism.45 Even if restorative justice is not universally effective, it can be a helpful approach to resolving certain instances of crime and enacting the hope for reconciliation laid out in Matthew 18. By extending biblical principles into the public sphere, restorative justice can to provide opportunities for restitution and forgiveness where none exist now.

The Good Lives Model and Reorienting the Criminal

Restorative justice may repair the interpersonal harm caused by a criminal offense, but it does not focus on the intrapersonal measures that may be needed to help heal the criminal. The question becomes how theological principles can guide a restoration of the criminal’s interior life. While Romans 8 would suggest that nothing short of the power of the gospel can make such change within the individual’s heart, the objective here is to chart out a map of reform which can be used in the secular framework of modern liberal society. Although individuals cannot be completely freed from sin apart from the gospel, we are not seeking to liberate criminals from all sin, only from its more extreme manifestations through crime. Even Calvin, a theologian convicted by humanity’s need for God’s working in regeneration, noted that some non-Christians are able to restrain their inner corruptions, even if they are not purified.46 Despite how such peace may ultimately be only ephemeral, secular programs can provide a basic path for restraining sin and rehabilitating criminals into society.

One approach which can be grounded in theological principles is the Good Lives Model developed by clinical psychologists specifically for criminal rehabilitation.47 The founding principle of the Good Lives Model is that humans are naturally oriented toward seeking certain, primary goods in life which can be “states of affairs, states of mind, personal characteristics, activities, or experiences that are sought for their own sake are likely to increase psychological well-being if achieved.”48 The GLM has sorted all primary goods into 11 different categories which all constitute the pillars of the good life: life, knowledge, recreation, work, agency, inner stability, personal relations, community, spirituality, pleasure, and creativity. The extent to which a person may prioritize or value these particular bundles of primary goods depends on the individual, but these general categories are the avenues through which we can find happiness.49

In this light, the GLM argues that crime is a result of an individual’s inability to achieve these goods. A number of factors may obstruct the individual’s pursuit of the good life: a lack of capacity stemming from internal discouragement or external societal forces, an insufficient scope of purpose which only focuses on a few goods while neglecting others, ineffective or inappropriate strategies for finding the primary goods, or an incoherent plan in seeking the primary goods resulting from inadequate prioritization. Encountering these pitfalls, the person may resort to crime in order to acquire the goods illegitimately or as a coping mechanism for goods they may be missing. For example, an individual seeking the good of inner peace may turn to narcotics in order to free themselves from depression. Or someone unable to find romantic intimacy may resort to sexual assault.50 With this etiology, the GLM suggests responding to the individual’s needs by using therapy to help them recognize their primary goods and develop legitimate strategies to pursue them through concrete secondary goods (a particular career or hobby). By discovering what their goods are, the patient can conceptualize ways in which they can strive for the good life, envisioning a future in which they can have a positive life and relationship with their community.51 Just like restorative justice, the GLM is future-oriented in its emphasis on how the criminal can be restored to the community rather than merely isolating them through punishment.

This sense of hope and redemption plays a crucial role in the practical application of the GLM. Shadd Maruna has emphasized the importance of using narratives of redemption to help reshape the criminal’s self-identity. Since individuals’ futures are often dependent on how they construct their narratives of the past, Maruna encourages inmates to realize that their previous lifestyles or momentary impulses may have led them into crime and prison, but that they are now turning around and pursuing a better life. He explains that if inmates are trapped into “reading from a condemnation script,” they will begin to identify themselves as nothing more than criminals, and the invectives thrown against will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as they lapse back into crime.52 This was also argued by Yochelson and Samenow in their study The Criminal Personality where they claimed that the incarcerated can become ensnared in certain thinking patterns and thought processes which are conducive to criminal behavior.53 The solution to recidivism is breaking individuals out of these mental ruts, so that they can develop a healthy attitude toward life which can guide their choices in the future.54

Rather than placing the emphasis of carceral rituals of condemnation and loss of identity, Maruna argues that a rhetoric of redemption should emphasize and reward progress, celebrating one’s release or reform rather than treating it with shame or silence.55 While Maruna’s understanding of redemption is rooted in secular uses, it is not hard to see how these practices and methods are similar Christian conceptions of redemption. Protestant tradition also emphasizes creating testimonies which reflect the narratives of personal salvation through Christ’s atonement, commemorating our redemption through the ritual sacraments of baptism and communion.56 However, the overlap between the Good Lives Model and Christian theology runs deeper, particularly in an Augustinian framework.

Augustine argued that, as human beings, we are naturally drawn toward desiring particular goods, and our souls are drawn toward the objects of our loves.57 Everything which exists is good (being created by a good God), but God is the highest good to whom our love of lesser goods should be directed.58 A truly virtuous person loves everything with the value that God has intended in his hierarchy of the goods, using them for the ultimate purpose of enjoying God.59 When we sin through our idolatrous pride, we place lesser goods such as wealth or beauty above other people, or even God, forcing misery upon ourselves.60 Proper human behavior can only be achieved through restoring this ordering of goods through the grace by which God redirects our desires.61 This hamartiology is similar to the Good Lives Model for both contend that a disordered conception or pursuit of goods can create an imbalance which drags the individual into sin/crime. This parallel between sinful attitudes and crime was also articulated by Colson who claimed that “crime is man’s own moral choice. Samenow and Yochelson are, in my opinion, correct. Their research findings and St. Augustine’s story are consistent with the Judeo-Christian perspective of man and sin.”62 By focusing on rearranging this conception of the goods, Augustinianism and the GLM provide a solution for transforming criminals.

However, there does seem to be a fundamental tension between these two perspectives in understanding God’s operative role. Whereas Augustine clearly argues that God is the highest of an objectively ordered set of goods, the GLM believes that the primary goods be sorted according to an individual’s preferences, interests, and identity. While Augustine believes that God is the only agent capable of liberating us from our sinful impulses, the GLM places the power of redemption in the hands of the self.63 In effect, the GLM replaces God with the individual who works out his or her own salvation, much too similar to the heresy of Pelagianism which argues our salvation is possible through the individual apart from Christ. Consequently, the question of salvific agency creates a problem in pairing these two frameworks.

Levad attempted to reconcile the GLM with Christian orthodoxy through arguing that because the GLM employs an Aristotelian anthropology in its idea that humans are naturally oriented toward the good life, its ethics can be integrated into a Thomist framework—a synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy with Christian doctrine.64 However, there are several conceptual incongruences between these systems. The GLM, as shown above, subscribes to a compartmentalized, self-determined ordering of the goods. This individualized hierarchy is, as Alasdair MacIntyre argues, an outworking of the modern liberal tradition which is incompatible with Thomism and Aristotelianism, much less the Augustinianism laid out above which believes in an objective unified good.65

The best way of navigating this tension is recognizing that the exclusion of God is an inherent limitation of a secular model which must, by definition, reject transcendent, spiritual forces. Ideally, this is where private efforts in prison ministry would complement publicly funded GLM therapy through providing an alternative understanding of the goods as something both united in and emanating from God. The Good Lives Model offers a helpful foundational vocabulary of articulating the existence of goods, emphasizing human dignity and the potential for transformation, all of which are amenable to the gospel.66 It is far easier for the gospel to operate in conjunction with this conceptual framework of moral agency than with a perspective which denies the existence of goodness or completely replaces human agency with societal forces or the oppression of power structures. Prison ministry can build off such discussion of pursuing the goods by emphasizing God as the highest good, and inmates who realize that they are unable to achieve the good on their own, may then turn to the gospel for healing and renewal. So, while the GLM may not be the strongest approach to healing broken sinners, it is a particularly helpful secular model that can introduce language and attitudes which, in conjunction with prison ministry, can work to redeem criminals.

Paired with restorative justice, GLM therapy can help both repair the wounds of crime and provide the first steps in reforming the criminal. And, if it is not sufficient on its own, prison ministry can offer the incarcerated the hope of the gospel through both an internal and external transformation of their lives. However, several problems still remain. First, jailhouse religion does not seem to have a strong hold on individual inmates after release; empirical studies suggest that religious converts are equally likely as a control group to be incarcerated again within a few years.67 Second, GLM patients may develop healthy thought processes and goals in pursuing the good life, but this may only be a theoretical exercise which has no bearing on practical life once they leave prison. These two problems are both rooted in the radical disconnect between prison life and the life outside. Because it is such a vast transition, ex-convicts may feel disoriented and lapse into the unhealthy habits they developed either before prison or during their carceral tenure. The third approach which we will explore in the next section promotes continuity and community in preparing the incarcerated for re-entry.

Practicing Rehabilitation through Community

Counseling and therapy may cultivate healthy attitudes and mindsets about the right ways to live, but this progress can easily be lost under the pressures and degradation of prison life. While GLM therapy may help criminals learn useful theoretical lessons about how they should think and respond to their circumstances, we cannot forget that these inmates also live day to day in a prison community which can instill unhealthy practices and psychological issues which will haunt prisoners following release.68 Though it would certainly help to provide agencies and other ways which would help the incarcerated re-enter society, much needs to be done to change incarceration itself.69 Therapeutic solutions such as the Good Lives Model need a practical component, a concrete structure which can habituate inmates in good practices imported from the concepts of counseling sessions. However, in order to counter the social alienation of prison culture and replace it with an environment conducive to individual and collective growth, incarceration itself needs to be radically changed. By deconstructing the norms of hypermasculinity, power, and isolation which constitute typical prison life, rehabilitation should provide ways to bring inmates together and make them interdependent so that they can learn how they can live in a healthy community with other people. In envisioning such reform, Christian virtue ethics can share a number of insights.

There are specifically two emphases of Christian virtue ethics to explore with criminal rehabilitation in mind: the role of habit and the role of community. Contemporary discussions in ethics rarely recognize the power of habit in determining our lives. Instead, modern ethical accounts generally consist of discovering rational principles which should determine what would be the moral action in particular situations, but this fails to recognize how real human behavior works.70 For virtue ethicists, humans are not purely voluntarist agents who evaluate every single decision in light of universal maxims; individuals are informed by practices and habits as well. This does not mean that individuals have no freedom over their actions, but that their ethical choices and quotidian habits inform each other in building our character.71 Consequently, merely possessing the correct moral precepts does not make one virtuous; they must cultivate these virtues through habit and practice by which they can strive for the good.72 In the context of incarceration, prisoners cannot be expected to develop character when they are habituated in prison rituals of violence and degradation. What they need is an environment that will allow them to nurture the virtues and build the practices and lifestyle applicable to post-incarceration life, enabling them to pursue their goods using both healthy mindsets and habits.

Second, individual practices are not only what determine our future action; our social contexts and communities play a very large role in character formation as well. As Hauerwas explains, our culture’s emphasis on freedom, competition, and acquisition only turns us away from each other creating a sense of isolation and a break down in trust and community.73 In contrast to the fixation on freedom which permeates modern atomistic individualism, Gushee and Stassen argue that “we must stress that character is formed not by self-made individuals, but by the shaping, encouraging and correcting influence of community.”74 Unfortunately, as Logan points out, social alienation and atomistic individualism are central to the practices of imprisonment and only exacerbate inmates’ personal struggles through additional isolation.75 In order for rehabilitation to be truly effective, the incarcerated must have the opportunity to form virtuous character in the presence of a supportive community with mentors who can disciple their wards with an aim toward their well-being and individual flourishing.76

One program which offers such a goal in correctional facilities is the Therapeutic Community. As Alisia Stevens defines it, a Therapeutic Community (TC)

uses the social milieu and various forms of psychotherapy to help troubled people recognize and re-experience, in real time and within the real-life laboratory of a stable social community, the aspects of their personality and ways of thinking and behaving that have damaged them.77

TCs are alternative correctional facilities where inmates can choose to serve their sentences with the goal of true rehabilitation. Initially, residents will adjust to the subculture of the TC setting before they participate in mutual self-help programs with their peers where they try to model prosocial behaviors and mindsets, ultimately leading to transitional services aiding residents’ re-entry.78 Through the work provided for residents, TCs attempt to build an ecosystem where residents can be encultured in virtuous living gained from reflecting on their mistakes and successes with each new day.79 There are several rehabilitative forces at play here. As Sung and Gideon explain,

Communal living is both the context and the tool in the therapeutic process. Both staff and residents are seen as agents of change. The transformation unfolds as a developmental process of multidimensional learning in the intimate climate of group affiliation and loyalty.80

The ultimate purpose is to help the incarcerated develop practices which can enable them to live a stable life in the real world after they leave the TC.81

Despite how blindly naïve the goals of a TC may seem in the context of criminal justice, it has been proven effective in reducing re-arrest rates, especially for those with drug offenses.82 Furthermore, Stevens’ experience with those convicted of violent offenses at the TC facility in Grendon gives not only her optimism but also the participants who expressed gratitude for the program’s role in their own rehabilitative journey out of violent crime.83 This does not mean that these facilities are idyllic utopias; conflict certainly does occur within the TC, but residents are held accountable for their actions, not only to maintain the strength of the community, but to aid the larger journey of rehabilitation.84 In order to promote its residents’ well-being, TCs based in criminal justice settings are more confrontational and authoritarian but simultaneously maintain a sense of personal autonomy and dignity not present in Nurse Ratched’s therapy sessions.85 It is in this context that the incarcerated can develop the habits needed to live virtuously with the guidance and support of both mentors and a wider community.

Not only is this consistent with Christian articulations of virtue ethics but also has historical precedent in the communities of Christian monasticism which were also designed to resist sin and combat human weakness.86 Although Foucault labeled monasticism as the ancestor of the disciplinary design of the modern penitentiary through its division of living space and scheduled time, the therapeutic community has much more in common with the spirit of monastic life than does traditional incarceration’s false semblance of its structure.87 Practices such as work, self-discipline, and living in community are ways in which monks and nuns have pursued a holy life, and these external habits are meant to reflect an inner spirit of faith, hope, and love.88 In a similar way, TCs are designed to habituate residents in living rightly through helping them acquire both the way of life and the internal attitudes conducive to their pursuit of the goods.89 Just as the monastics desired a community separated from the relentless temptations of the real world, TCs offer a haven where residents can escape the fear and degradation of traditional incarceration and undergo true rehabilitation.90

By providing a place apart from the real world or the traditional prison, therapeutic communities offer a safe learning environment where residents can develop a resistance to criminal impulses and mentalities which brought them there. By replacing vice with virtue, TCs can build moral character through community. Furthermore, therapeutic communities can be paired with GLM therapy in order to create a more comprehensive program of rehabilitation. While the Good Lives Model contributes the concepts, vocabulary, and narrative which aid individual growth, TCs can provide the concrete environment where criminals can practice their pursuit of the goods under the watchful guidance of a mentor. Of course, it should not be assumed that the TC is universally effective; there will always be some hardened cynics just passing through for a lighter sentence. Nevertheless, many can find healing and redemption through the rehabilitative influence of therapeutic communities. For Christian virtue ethicists, community is an essential element of moral formation, and for the incarcerated, TCs can be a place where they can familiarize themselves with virtuous living.


Through adopting a posture of charity and love toward those who have broken the laws of the community, Christians can find ways in which they can help redeem the incarcerated and offer them hope in being restored to a live a free, healthy life. Restorative justice can provide a remedy after crime and give a sense of closure and possible reconciliation for both perpetrators and victims. To address the underlying criminal impulses in the individual, the Good Lives Model can orient the person to properly seeking the good of life. Additionally, therapeutic communities function as an ecosystem in which the incarcerated can be habituated in virtuous practices while learning to live in community with others. Through combining these approaches, it may be possible to rehabilitate the incarcerated, not only to reduce recidivism rates, but to meet the needs of the whole person, guiding them toward healthy living outside of prison. Although these practices may not be fully actualized in the near future, this does not prevent Christians from advocating rehabilitation so that modern incarceration can begin to recover its original telos.

However, despite its importance, rehabilitation is not the only key to solving the criminal justice problem. As discussed earlier, the problems of over-incarceration and the racial disparity in American prisons show how deeply the criminal justice system needs reform. Furthermore, ex-convicts face a number of disadvantages upon re-entry ranging from a lack of employment opportunities to barriers from receiving welfare or even voting. Rehabilitation can only do so much to prepare inmates for the real world, but if the real world has no place for them, then any hope of redemptive restoration is ultimately fruitless. Fortunately, some faith-based programs such as REST Philly have provided services such as transitional housing and community reintegration activities to help ex-convicts re-enter society, but these opportunities are not available for everyone.91 Changing the laws which impede re-entry and reintegration as well as reforming the parole system are necessary reforms to help make our criminal justice system a truly just one.

While considering these other dimensions of criminal justice reform, it is important to remember the central role that rehabilitation plays in transforming the larger system. MacKenzie argues that for social-level reform to occur, change must happen at an individual level by transforming the criminal into someone who is willing and able to participate in their community.92 Bracketing the discussion on the criminogenic priority of contextual factors versus individual agency, it is important to see how rehabilitation can provide larger spillover benefits for our criminal justice system. Because these rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism and improve the lives of participants, they can ameliorate the problem of over-incarceration as it stands now. And by introducing restorative justice programs which can undo the social and emotional damage of crime, rehabilitated individuals may be able to partake in the community once again. By implementing broader criminal justice reforms in conjunction with these approaches to rehabilitation, both the incarcerated and the incarceration system may be healed.

Despite how daunting this task may be, this does not excuse Christians from taking the first few steps to achieving this goal. Rather than doubling down on solely faith-based programs, Christians should seek to reform the larger secular system using the conceptual resources of their theological and biblical heritage. Criminal justice is one such issue where Christians can offer not their own exclusive solution, but support for healing the damage wrought by mass incarceration within the context of a secular society. Rather than surrendering this cause to those who view the criminal as a test subject whose criminogenic factors must be isolated and treated, Christians can advocate reform compatible with a narrative of redemption and forgiveness with the ultimate hope of restoring the incarcerated. This is a gesture which does not condemn criminals to wallow in the quagmire of sin but offers the saving hand of grace, beckoning them back into the community with the hope of a better future.

Cite this article
Vincent Bacote and Nathaniel Perrin, “Redemptive Rehabilitation: Theological Approaches to Criminal Justice Reform”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 49:1 , 3-24


  1. Charles Colson, Born Again (Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen Books, 1976), 55-72, 123-127, 232.
  2. Jonathan Aitken, Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 297-402.
  3. E. Ann Carson, “Prisoners in 2014” (Washington D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2015),
  4. “Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Rate,” World Prison Brief,
  5. See Peter Wagner, “Tracking State Prison Growth in 50 States” (Northampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative, 2016), and “2014 Crime in the United States,” (Washington, D.C.: Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting, 2015),
  6. Jamie Fellner, Alison Parker, and Maria McFarland, “Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution” (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2014)
  7. See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Jackson, TN: The New Press, 2012); and William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2011) for an examination of the over-incarceration problem particularly in its racial dimensions. See Joan Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Lior Gideon and Hung-En Sung, eds., Rethinking Corrections: Rehabilitation, Reentry, and Reintegration (Los Angeles, SAGE Publications, 2011) for an analysis of the barriers and disadvantages ex-convicts face upon release.
  8. Matthew Durose, Alexia Cooper, and Howard Snyder, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010 (Washington D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2014), 1.
  9. Research has indicated that rather than reducing the individual’s tendencies towards crime, incarceration often increases the likelihood of criminal behavior. See Patrick Bayer, Randi Hjalmarsson, and David Pozen, “Building Criminal Capital behind Bars: Peer Effects in Juvenile Corrections,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 124.1 (2009): 105-147, doi:10.3386/w12932 for how juvenile corrections fosters criminal behavior through peer influence. See Cassia Spohn and David Holleran, “The Effect of Imprisonment on Recidivism Rates of Felony Offenders: A Focus on Drug Offenders,” Criminology 40.2 (2002): 329-358, doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2002.tb00959.x for how imprisoning drug users often leads to higher recidivism than only probation. See M. Chen and Jesse Shapiro, “Do Harsher Prison Conditions Reduce Recidivism? A Discontinuity-based Approach,” American Law and Economics Review 9.1 (2007): 1-29, doi:10.1093/aler/ahm006 for how harsher prison conditions indicate that prisoners will have a higher crime rate upon release.
  10. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 56.
  11. Timothy Gorringe, God’s Just Vengeance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 85-125.
  12. T. Richard Snyder, The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 11-13.
  13. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan, 2nd ed., (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 3-131.
  14. James Logan, Good Punishment? Christian Moral Practice and U.S. Imprisonment (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 18-20; Norval Morris and David Rothman, The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 112-126.
  15. See Jennifer Graber, “Prisons and Religion in the Americas,” Religion Compass 7.12 (2013): 532-540, doi: 10.1111/rec3.12089 for an account of the historical and theological development of American incarceration.
  16. Stanley Hauerwas, “Punishing Christians,” in Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004), 199.
  17. Charles Colson, “Toward an Understanding of Imprisonment and Rehabilitation,” in Crime and the Responsible Community, eds. John Stott and Nick Miller (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 155.
  18. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 422.
  19. There are a number of Christian authors who have presented compelling theological arguments for why and how we should fix our incarceration system. See Logan, Good Punishment? Christian Moral Practice and U.S. Imprisonment; Snyder, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment; Amy Levad, Redeeming a Prison Society: A Liturgical and Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014); and Christopher Marshall, Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime, and Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001).
  20. See Byron Johnson, More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2011) for an analysis of how religion has played an effective role in reducing crime rates.
  21. “Alternative Punishment for Nonviolent Crimes,” National Association of Evangelicals, November 2013,
  22. Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 27928 (8th Cir. Iowa 2007).
  23. Carl Henry, “‘The Evangelical Formula of Protest’ and ‘the Dawn of a New Reformation,’” in Evangelical Ethics: A Reader, eds. David Gushee and Isaac Sharp (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 6.
  24. Winnifred Sullivan, Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 235-236.
  25. Hauerwas, “Punishing Christians,”199.
  26. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 277.
  27. Ibid., 278-282.
  28. C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 293.
  29. Robert Martinson, “What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform,” The Public Interest 35 (1974): 49.
  30. Ibid., 25.
  31. Doris MacKenzie, What Works in Corrections: Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 9.
  32. Francis Cullen and Karen Gilbert, Reaffirming Rehabilitation (Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing, 1982), 14-15.
  33. Abigayl Perelman and Carl Clements, “Belief about What Works in Juvenile Rehabilitation: The Influence of Attitudes on Support for ‘Get Tough’ and Evidence-Based Interventions,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 36.2 (2009): 184-186.
  34. Francis Cullen and Cheryl Jonson, “Rehabilitation and Treatment Programs,” in Crime and Public Policy, eds. James Wilson and Joan Petersilia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 328-330; MacKenzie, What Works in Corrections.
  35. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes (Vienna: United Nations, 2006), 7.
  36. See Denis Sullivan and Larry Tifft, eds., Handbook of Restorative Justice (New York: Routledge, 2006); Jennifer Llewellyn and Daniel Philpott, eds., Restorative Justice, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Jim Consedine and Helen Bowen, eds. Restorative Justice: Contemporary Themes and Practice (Lyttleton, NZ: Ploughshares Publications, 1999) for more on the practices, procedures, and guidelines of various restorative justice programs.
  37. Jeff Latimer, Craig Dowden, and Danielle Muise, “The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis,” The Prison Journal 85.2 (2005): 127-144,
  38. “Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010,” (Washington D.C., U.S. Census Bureau, 2011),, 4; Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2016” (Northampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative, 2016).
  39. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 40-58.
  40. Llewellyn and Philpott, Restorative Justice, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding, 4-11, 207-211.
  41. Pierre Allard and Wayne Northey, “Christianity: The Rediscovery of Restorative Justice,” in The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice, ed. Michael Hadley (New York: State University of New York Press, 2001), 122-123.
  42. Perry Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House, 1998), 34.
  43. Jim Consedine, Restorative Justice: Healing the Effects of Crime (Lyttleton, NZ: Ploughshare Publications, 1995), 148-152.
  44. See Marshall, Beyond Retribution; and Snyder, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment, 74-100.
  45. Jeff Latimer, Craig Dowden, and Danielle Muise, “The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis,” The Prison Journal 85.2 (2005): 127-144,
  46. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 179-180.
  47. Selecting this model does not suggest that other clinical approaches do not work. It has been chosen specifically because it is a secular approach which can be couched in a theological framework and has been developed with the particular intention of offender rehabilitation, not just in terms of isolating recidivism factors, but in caring for the whole person through a particular vocabulary and methodology we find helpful for theological reasons that will be explained later.
  48. Tony Ward et al., “The Good Lives Model of Offender Rehabilitation: Clinical Implications,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 12 (2007): 90, doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2006.03.004.
  49. Tony Ward et al., “The Good Lives Model and the Risk Need Responsivity Model: A Critical Response to Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 39.1 (2012): 95-96, doi: 10.1177/0093854811426085.
  50. Ward et al., “The Good Lives Model of Offender Rehabilitation,” 91-92.
  51. Tony Ward, “Good Lives and the Rehabilitation of Offenders: Promises and Problems,” Aggression and Behavior 7 (2002): 521-525,

  52. Shadd Maruna, Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives (Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001), 74-108.
  53. Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow, The Criminal Personality: A Profile for Change, Vol. 1 (Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson Press, 1982), 52-53, 484.
  54. Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow, The Criminal Personality: The Change Process, Vol. 2 (Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson Press, 1985), 90-93.
  55. Maruna, Making Good, 158-165.
  56. Additionally, Hauerwas also places a strong emphasis on the role of narrative in shaping an individual’s character and guiding their moral growth. See Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), 129-152.
  57. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 62-63.
  58. Ibid., On the Free Choice of the Will, On Grace and Free Will, and Other Writings, ed. and trans. Peter King (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 87-88.
  59. Ibid., On Christian Teaching, trans. R. P. H. Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 9-10.
  60. Ibid., City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 599-600, 636-637; Ibid., Confessions, 28-30; Ibid., On Christian Teaching, 18-19.
  61. Ibid., On Christian Teaching, 14-15.
  62. Charles Colson, “Towards an Understanding of the Origins of Crime,” in Crime and the Responsible Community, eds. John Stott and Nick Miller (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 37.
  63. Augustine, On Christian Teaching, 12-14; Tony Ward and W. L. Marshall, “Good Lives, Aetiology and the Rehabilitation of Sex Offenders: A Bridging Theory,” Journal of Sexual Aggression 10.2 (2004): 158-160, doi: 10.1080/13552600412331290102.
  64. Levad, Redeeming a Prison Society, 131-132.
  65. Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1988), 332-341.
  66. See Maruna, Making Good, 150 for an explanation of how spirituality can play a therapeutic role in helping individuals create redemption narratives.
  67. Johnson, More God, Less Crime, 159-164. Johnson argues that authentic religious conversion is hard to determine, and false converts who are re-arrested should not be generalized to represent everyone who experiences “jailhouse religion.” One factor which may help individuals stay in the faith are church programs which help ex-convicts find a community upon release and hold them spiritually accountable.
  68. Jeffrey Morenoff and David Harding, “Incarceration, Prisoner Reentry, and Communities,” Annual Review of Sociology 40 (2014): doi: 10/1146/annurev-soc-071811-145511.
  69. Craig Haney, “The Psychological Impact of Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment,” (presentation, From Prison to Home: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities, Betheseda, MD, January 30-31, 2002), 86-88.
  70. David Gushee and Glen Stassen, Kingdom Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 63-64.
  71. Joseph Kotva, The Christian Case for Virtue Ethics (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1996), 26-29.
  72. Ibid., 23-26.
  73. Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 79-83.
  74. Gushee and Stassen, Kingdom Ethics, 56-57.
  75. Logan, Good Punishment?, 101-111.
  76. Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 58; Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 125-128.
  77. Alisa Stevens, Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities: Enabling Change the TC Way (London: Routledge, 2012), 2.
  78. Hung-En Sung and Lior Gideon, “Major Rehabilitative Approaches,” in Rethinking Corrections: Rehabilitation, Reentry, and Reintegration, eds. Lior Gideon and Hung-En Sung (Los Angeles, SAGE Publications, 2011), 83-84.
  79. Stevens, Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities, 12.
  80. Sung and Gideon, “Major Rehabilitative Approaches,” 83.
  81. Stevens, Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities, 13.
  82. See Eric Jensen and Stephanie Kane, “The Effects of Therapeutic Community on Recidivism up to Four Years After Release from Prison,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 39.8 (2012): 1075-1087, doi: 10.1177/0093854812442331; Ojmarrh Mitchell et al., “The Effectiveness of Incarceration-Based Drug Treatment on Criminal Behavior: A Systematic Review,” Campbell Systematic Reviews 18 (2012):
  83. Stevens, Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities, 151-168.
  84. Ibid., 108-124.
  85. Sung and Gideon, “Major Rehabilitative Approaches,” 82.
  86. Ibid., 81.
  87. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 143, 149.
  88. Charles Cummings, Monastic Practices (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2015), vii-viii.
  89. Stevens, Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities, 13.
  90. It should be noted that the InnerChange Freedom Initiative functions like a therapeutic community by providing an alternative facility where inmates can receive education and the gospel away from the temptations and degradation of the standard prison. However, as explained above, IFI has faced legal challenges on the basis of separation of church and state, and our goal here is to develop theologically-based models which can be applied in a secular framework. Although the TC faces the same limitations of secularization as the GLM, it does offer a right foundation for improving criminals’ lives and character.
  91. Beverly Frazier, “Faith-Based Prisoner Reentry,” in Rethinking Corrections: Rehabilitation, Reentry, and Reintegration, eds. Lior Gideon and Hung-En Sung (Los Angeles, SAGE Publications, 2011), 280-302.
  92. MacKenzie, What Works in Corrections, 337.

Vincent Bacote

Wheaton College
Vincent Bacote is professor of theology and director of Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College.

Nathaniel Perrin

Wheaton College
Nathaniel Perrin is a recent graduate of Wheaton College.