Prison Fellowship, formerly Prison Fellowship Ministries, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and "associate" member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a web of right-wing nonprofits. The group was founded by Nixon aide Charles W. Colson, who was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.
According to its website, "Prison Fellowship seeks to restore those affected by crime and incarceration by introducing prisoners, victims, and their families to a new hope available through Jesus Christ. We accomplish this by training and inspiring churches and communities—inside and outside of prison —to support the restoration of those affected by incarceration. We equip wardens, prison staff, and volunteers, including men and women serving time, to create safer, more rehabilitative prisons that prepare prisoners to return to their communities as good neighbors. We advocate for a criminal justice system that upholds restorative values, so that communities are safer, victims are respected, and those who have caused harm are transformed. Outside prisons, we collaborate with churches, para-church organizations, and local service providers to support families with loved ones behind bars and people affected by crime."
State Policy Network
SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of March 2019, SPN's membership totals 162. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state "think tank" members. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
Prison Fellowship Accused of Favoring Christians
In 2012 the Daily Beast reported on allegations that Prison Fellowship, then Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM), gave preferential treatment to Christian inmates.
"PFM has endured its share of controversy: In 2006 an Iowa state judge ruled that a Bible-based prison program violated the First Amendment by using state funds to promote Christianity to inmates. The suit 'accused Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) of giving preferential treatment to inmates participating in the program. They were given special visitation rights, movie-watching privileges, access to computers, and access to classes needed for early parole.' And a class-action lawsuit filed in 2010 by prisoners in jail in Pierce County, Wash., alleged that the facility 'operates a special unit known as the ‘God Pod,’ where Christian inmates participate in Christian Bible study and receive privileges denied to inmates of other faiths, including substantially more outdoor recreation time, more out-of-cell time, more visits from outside volunteers, and more in-unit entertainment opportunities.' Other lawsuits have made similar complaints about privileges for the housing units for born-again Christians, where everything is kindler, gentler, and more like home. The problem is, such units are only provided for Christians. When prison officials do not set up similar units for other religions, they are discriminating, and violating the First Amendment to boot."
- Total Revenue: $39,901,871
- Total Expenses: $37,669,093
- Net Assets: $1,621,432
- Total Revenue: $38,102,163
- Total Expenses: $43,516,721
- Net Assets: $(157,345)
- Total Revenue: $40,764,296
- Total Expenses: $37,424,431
- Net Assets: $5,144,960
Board of Directors
As of June 8, 2017:
- Carl F. Dill, Jr.
- Heidi A. Huizenga
- Paul S. Cauwels
- Dr. W. Brian Byrd
- N. Burl Cain
- Christian B. Colson
- Erika N. Harold
- Marten S. Hoekstra
- Jack Kiervin
- Thomas E. Mader
- Robert S. Milligan
- Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
Prison Fellowship lists staff on its website, available here.
Employer Identification Number (EIN):62-0988294
Prison Fellowship 44180 Riverside Parkway
Lansdowne, Virginia 20176-0176
- Rusty Leonard, "MinistryWatch.com's Take," October 1, 2001.
- Bill Berkowitz, "Charles Colson's Christian-based prison project on trial in Iowa: Prison Justice Ministries' InnerChange Freedom Initiative is a 'government-funded conversion program' says Americans United's Barry Lynn", Media Transparency, November 2, 2005.
- State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2016.
- Prison Fellowships, About, organizational website, accessed June 8, 2017.
- Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
- Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
- Mansfield Frazier, Charles “Chuck” Colson’s Prison Ministry Accused of Favoring Christians, The Daily Beast, May 1, 2012.
- Prison Fellowship, 2014 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, December 31, 2015.
- Prison Fellowship, 2013 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, November 14, 2014.
- Prison Fellowship, 2012 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, November 12, 2013.
- Prison Fellowship, leadership, organizational website, accessed June 8, 2016.