Here are the answers to the questions we hear at community meetings.
What is Horizon Prison Initiative?
Horizon Prison Initiative is a 10-month program for incarcerated men and women with the primary goal of helping them realize a life driven by criminal thoughts and behaviors—both inside and outside of prison walls—is no longer an option. Horizon specifically addresses the criminal mindset of the incarcerated, which leads to cyclical incarceration and the impact it has on prisons and communities.
Is mass incarceration really a problem in the United States?
Though the United States is home to only 5% of the total world population, it is home to 25% of the total world prison population. No other country in the world incarcerates more of its citizens than the United States. Currently, there are nearly 2.5 million adults in U.S. prisons; sadly, upon release approximately 50% will reoffend and return to prison within three years. Today’s broken criminal justice system has created huge social, moral, and monetary costs. Tough-on-crime policies have trapped, shamed, and condemned millions of Americans and their families to status of second-class citizens. Unless something is done to end this decades-old trend that weakens all facets of society, we will all continue to pay the price.
Why should I care about the incarcerated? They’re in prison to be punished!
True. Prison is the place for those who break the law to serve the sentence handed to them. However, it is nearly impossible to expect a person to leave prison better than when he entered simply by serving time. Quite often, they leave worse!
For many, criminal thoughts and behaviors were ingrained at an early age; they know no other way, or because of their past, they think another way is unattainable. When released from prison, they go home to the same peer-pressures, unhealthy relationships, economically disadvantaged communities, and demands of family life that lent to their ill-behaviors and incarceration in the first place—believing their old ways are the only way. With a label of “convicted felon,” they find it even more difficult to live responsibly. Without hope for a better life and without help learning how to break the cycle, they will end up back in prison. Regardless of the crime or sentence time, Horizon knows that transformation is possible and that the prisoner, their family, the prisons, and our communities all benefit. Community involvement in this process is a must.
Which prisons use Horizon programs?
We currently have a Horizon dormitory in the London Correctional Institution. In 2016, we are introducing a new program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.
How do you choose the prisoners for the program?
The program is open to all inmates regardless of crime or sentence time. However, we have two prerequisites to applying: no current disciplinary infractions and at least two years remaining on their sentence. This gives participants time to absorb what they learned in the program and practice their newly acquired skills before being released.
Each applicant is interviewed by the program coordinator, who works with the correctional institution administrative staff to determine who is accepted into the program.
Prisons are notoriously segregated, yet you say your program is multifaith. Does this really work?
Respect of diversity is paramount to our program. We accept participants of all faith traditions, age, race, ethnicity, crime committed, and sentence time combinations. While this presents challenges at the start of the program, the men leave realizing they are all brothers in life, not enemies.
While in the program, participants are encouraged to deepen their connection to their own faith tradition while learning tolerance and respect for those who believe, worship, and look differently. They experience studies in major and lesser-known faith traditions led by faith leaders in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, and Native American communities, to name a few.
Who is in charge of the program? Do volunteers teach coursework?
Each HPI location is staffed with a full-time program coordinator, who is employed by Horizon, not the institution. They are qualified instructors and mentors. They facilitate the programs with help from more than 150 volunteers from various faith and civic organizations. For safety and program consistency, the program coordinator supervises all volunteer-led programs. Sometimes participants and graduates may even teach.
Does the curriculum in Horizon provide participants with job skills?
Horizon’s focus is not vocational. We teach life skills that are realistically and easily applied by any participant, in any environment. Job skills alone cannot keep the incarcerated from becoming the re-incarcerated. Horizon enables the men and women to be successful in any trade by increasing responsibility and instilling pride in self, family, and community.
However, we recognize the role education plays in being successful upon release from prison. As many as 67% of the incarcerated did not finish high school and a majority read at an 8th grade level. In 2013 we installed a computer lab in our London dorm with software aimed at adult learners. Within 5 months, many of our participants had improved by as many as four grade levels in reading, mathematics, and language arts. By improving their skills and, in turn, their confidence, they have better chances of securing gainful employment upon release.
Is the program cost-effective?
Absolutely! Ohio spends $26,000 each year to house one inmate. It costs $1,600 per inmate to go through the Horizon program. When our graduates are released from prison, they stay out. We have a 5-times lower recidivism rate, based on a 10-year average. The criminal justice system spends more than $200 billion per year apprehending, trying, and incarcerating offenders. The more graduates we can remove from this equation, the lower that number will go.
What is the success rate of the program?
In our 14-year history, we have had close to 1,000 participants and 600 graduates. Our graduation rates per cycle have varied from 60-90%. Not everyone makes it through the program. Some may not be ready for the self-examination and hard work that is required for real change. Others leave for disruptive behavior or acceptance into an in-depth job training program. Still others are transferred to other prisons or released.
What is the effect of Horizon’s presence within the prisons?
It is our mission to see prisons transformed by transformed prisoners. Horizon graduates who are serving longer sentences take what they learn in Horizon and pass it into the general population. Over time, this way of living becomes the new culture of the prison. Graduates who live and lead by example inspire fellow inmates who haven’t participated in Horizon, as well as the prison staff. Disciplinary infractions eventually decrease by up to 80% in the general population. There become fewer occurrences of time added to sentences due to disruptive behaviors, which relieves some of the billion dollar burdens on the prisons and taxpayers.
How is Horizon funded?
Horizon depends on the generosity of individuals, religious organizations, and philanthropic foundations for its funding.