Program Uses Religion to Help Reform Inmates at County Jail

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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, VA (NEWSPLEX) -- In jails and prisons across the United States, there are many programs aimed at reforming offenders.

A program at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail is using religion in the hope of changing a mind of crime into the mind of a good citizen.

Though some inmates in the jails may feel forgotten, thanks to someone who has been in their shoes, they are finding hope from a higher power with a program called Good News Jail Ministry.

"If you want to call it a program, it's bringing Jesus Christ to young men in the jail and women," said Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding. "I've personally had many testimonies given to me even on the streets of guys that I had dealt with and that I had arrested that came up to me and said what a difference this made in their lives."

Harding became involved in the ministry after working with the drug units in Charlottesville and seeing first hand the change.

"I always thought if Jesus came back today, would he spend his time in the churches, where more people are already saved or would he spend his time in our jails," asked Harding.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, the inmates heal together, worship together and work on changing their hearts.

"I've been here quite some time," said ACRJ inmate William Harris. "I believe the only way I've been able to manage that time was with Christ."

They get one-on-one counseling to make sure they aren't lost in the crowd. Harris says, through the program, he's learning to serve.

"When serving others, I find I'm not of criminal thinking," said Harris. "When I place others and consider others first."

Alonzo Minor is the jail's Chaplain and he knows exactly what these inmates are going through.

"I believe that God takes us through things in life, to prepare us for ministry," said Minor. "I myself, I'm an ex-offender and I'm a living example that God is able to transform lives."

This program costs taxpayers nothing. The jail works with Good News to place the chaplain into the jail on a full-time basis.

"I'm here at different times, seven days a week," said Minor. "We have Bible studies here that we carry on, probably about 15 different Bible studies during the course of the week."

They put on five worship services in different areas of the jail. More services and individualized counseling means more volunteers, but because they need things like special training and Bibles, there can be an unmet need for finance.

"Because Jesus Christ is involved, you don't get a single tax dollar contributed to it." said Harding.

It costs $85,000 a year to keep the program going, and they rely on community donations to come up with that amount.

"This community is blessed with a lot of wealth. I think many people function in our community and don't even know that the ministry is there and don't know what our needs are," said Harding. "Every year, we come up short, we barely get close to meeting budget and one year that's not going to happen."

Though taxpayers don't pay for Good News, they do pay for the jail and the program has already proven to reduce recidivism, by giving the inmates hope for a better life.

"I believe the Good News Ministry is a blessing," said Harris.

There is a misconception that donating to the program will contribute to giving inmates a lighter sentence, but Harding says that is false.

The inmates come in the program by choice, their only reward would be to change. Participating has zero effect on sentence reduction.

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