As U. S. Locks Up More People Than Any Other Nation, Churches See Prisons as Mission Field


The United States locks up more people in prison — in raw numbers and in percentage of the population — than any other nation in the world. More than 2 million people are incarcerated in federal, state and county jails, with more than twice that number on probation or parole.

Prison numbers appear even more dramatically out-of-balance when looking at incarceration rates for African-American males and other minorities.

“Prison is a mission field” with so many people in prison — or formerly in prison, said Burton Barr.

“It’s a very needed ministry,” he said. “That’s a way to reach people.”

As an associate minister at West Side Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Barr leads the church’s prison ministries. He has also served in prison ministry leadership roles for the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri and the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc.

“Prison ministry has a direct mandate throughout the Bible,” Barr said, adding that prisoners and related topics are mentioned in the Bible more than 130 times.

Involved in prison ministry for two decades, Barr visits several prisons on a regular basis. He also works with aftercare outreach to people recently released from prison. He called aftercare “one of the most important parts of prison ministry.”

“We can go in and preach and sing, but then when they get out if they don’t have the resources, a lot of them might resort back to the same old ways,” he said.

Barr noted he experienced this problem personally. Although he grew up in the church and felt a call to ministry as a teenager, he “backslid” and ended up in prison. While incarcerated, a prison minister helped him return to God.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Brian Kaylor