Having worked for 15 years at CoreCivic’s Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia, Chaplain Judith Smith knows firsthand the impact faith-based programs can have on reducing recidivism.
She also knows how faith-based programs must get better.
“Our philosophy in faith-based programming is that your mind has to change before your behavior ever will,” she said. “Many inmates know their religious texts and can quote them well, but there’s a disconnect between what they hear in faith services and what they do the rest of the week.”
To bridge that gap, CoreCivic is rolling out Threshold, a faith-based program used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Under Threshold, Chaplain Smith and her team of facilitators will teach inmates about goal setting, relationships and how to apply their faith to better decision-making.
“A lot of inmates are never challenged to think about how their crime has changed somebody’s life forever,” she said. “Threshold does that.”
The program encourages inmates to think about major life issues through the lens of their own faith, but inmates with no religious affiliation are also welcome to participate from a secular, values-based perspective.
“I was happy to see it come on board,” Chaplain Smith said. “Coffee is becoming more and more a program facility with greater resources in place for inmates to better themselves. They will not only be spiritually prepared to reenter the world, but mentally and emotionally prepared as well.”
As the facility’s volunteer coordinator, Chaplain Smith also works with religious and volunteer organizations in the community to bring in more resources to inmates — from coloring supplies for inmates’ children to use in visitation to volunteers who coordinate faith study groups.
“The needs of inmates are ongoing all day long,” Chaplain Smith said. “Prioritizing your work and finding enough time to do it is a challenge, but I’ve never been happier than I am here.