Evangelicals Support Prison Reform in Theory, But Less in Practice

Survey shows optimism for the potential for redemption and restoration, though most churches aren’t involved in criminal justice efforts.

Evangelicals believe in second chances—and that extends to the millions of people who have been or are incarcerated in the US.

But new research shows that though evangelicals are more likely than Americans overall to support certain aspects of restorative justice and prison reform, few churches have made the issue a priority.

As legislative efforts to address mass incarceration advance at federal and state levels, a 2019 survey by the Barna Group and the ministry Prison Fellowship found that practicing evangelicals were passionate about redemption and restoration in criminal justice.

More than half (52%) “agree strongly” that the goal of the system should be “restoration for all parties,” compared to 46 percent of practicing Christians and 35 percent of all American adults who say the same.

Practicing evangelicals also showed the strongest support for safe, humane prison conditions (52% strongly agree compared to 33% of US adults); were most hopeful about the potential for formerly incarcerated citizens to contribute to society (61% strongly agree compared to 42% of US adults); and were most likely to say caring for prisoners is important to them (50% strongly agree compared to 26% of US adults).

But less than one in four (22%) evangelicals report that their churches have engaged in raising awareness about criminal justice in the past six months. By comparison, 65 percent of evangelicals say their churches have raised awareness of the sanctity of life, and 46 percent homelessness.

Practicing evangelicals are also slightly less likely than fellow Christians to say an elected official’s stance on criminal justice reform would influence their vote, the survey found. (Political leanings are a factor; …

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