Recently, I had the privilege of travelling to the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Shakopee. The facility is the only prison in Minnesota used for women. Located a little bit outside of the Twin Cities, the prison houses more than 600 prisoners. The prison, like most prisons, realizes the vast majority of inmates will be reacclimated to society at some point and provides extensive programming to ease the transition.
In addition to vocational training and specialized programming aimed at specific needs, Minnesota’s Department of Corrections has allowed Prison Fellowship to fully staff year long programs aimed at faith-based multi-discipline reform. The goal of the program is to approach the return to society from a holistic angle.
The year-long program requires participants to apply for a position in the program. Consequently, the participants are highly motivated. Discussing the content with participants, the program is not easy and requires intense introspection. To assist them in the completion of the program, graduates are often retained to serve as mentors. The mentors serve an important role of reinforcing the principles taught from a relatable perspective. In talking with participants, there was a deep appreciation for not only the opportunity to learn from the Prison Fellowship staff but also from the ability to address issues that perhaps might have gone ignored.
An often-overlooked aspect of rehabilitation programs is asking the individual what they need. This is not true for the Prison Fellowship program at Shakopee. Administrators of the program are on constant look out of how to improve. Participants are engaged during and following the year-long program to evaluate portions of the program. As a result, adjustments are made to better address the needs of the women.
Currently, there is a similar program administered in Wisconsin by Prison Fellowship. Located at the Racine Correctional Institute, volunteers, rather than regular staff, run the program. Wisconsin correction officials should expand this program to give inmates the opportunity to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by Prison Fellowship.