Faith-Based Correctional Interventions: A Systematic Review of the Literature

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Key Words

faith-based, religion, offender programs

What it means

There is a marked lack of studies on faith-based interventions in correctional settings that have a rigorous research methodology. Further research with high quality methodology (e.g., appropriate comparisons, controlling for other variables that could affect outcomes, long-term follow-up) is needed to determine the impact of these interventions. Interventions for Aboriginal offenders should be examined separately, given the unique role that spirituality plays in their cultures.

What we found

In total, seven articles were found.Only two of these studies contained data on recidivism, both which had methodological weaknesses that must be considered and both of which evaluated very different interventions with divergent populations.

The only study that was rated as having the highest level of methodology failed to find a relationship between participation in a program and the measures included (e.g., criminal thinking, empathy, rumination, forgiveness). The studies with weaker methodologies did support increases in some factors (e.g., empathy, forgiveness, inner sense of temporality and future) and a decrease in negative emotions and fights. While these studies did not focus on recidivism, other factors measured could assist offenders in their rehabilitation. The systematic review of faith-based programs did not include any articles that examined programs based on Aboriginal spirituality.

Why we did this study

While the role and significance of religion in corrections has changed over time, religion has always been part of correctional history, initially informing punishment and later forming the basis for rehabilitation efforts. Overall, literature suggests that religiosity (i.e., whether offenders identify as being religious, how devout offenders view themselves to be, which religion offenders identify being a part of) and participation in faith-based services within the institution may have a positive effect on correctional outcomes, including reductions in antisocial behaviours, institutional misconducts. Nonetheless, a thorough examination of what is known about the efficacy of structured faith-based interventions is required to draw firmer conclusions. The purpose of the present study was to conduct a systematic review of articles pertaining to offender faith-based interventions to determine what is currently known about the effectiveness of faith-based interventions.

What we did

A systematic review of articles was conducted. Fourteen electronic databases were searched using terms referring to offenders, faith, and interventions. The search identified 655 abstracts, which were reviewed for relevancy. No date restriction was used and only peer-reviewed articles were included. The inclusion criteria for further review were: adult participants (18 years or older); a structured program, intervention, or treatment; an intervention that did not exclusively treat substance abuse; and outcome data. Seven articles were included in the review and all were rated on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (Sherman et al., 1998). This scale was used to assess methodological quality from lowest (1) to highest (5).

For more information

Power, J., Ritchie, M. B., & Madill, D. (2014). Faith-based interventions: A systematic review of the literature (Research Brief B-56). Ottawa, ON: Correctional Service of Canada.

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