Prison Seminary in Arkansas to Start Classes in Fall 2019

Pastor Jarvis Smith praying

A partnership between the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC), Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (MABTS) and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), will soon establish a seminary within one of Arkansas’ prison units, it was announced April 30 at the State Capitol.

The new seminary will begin classes in the fall of 2019 with an initial cohort of 25 male inmates in the state’s Varner Unit, located about 30 miles south of Pine Bluff.

“I wish I could be with you today to celebrate the establishment of a seminary in the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson in a video produced for the event. “This is a remarkable opportunity for inmates to learn more about biblical principles and powerfully influence the lives of others as they begin their journeys as ministers of faith.

“Thank you to everyone for your role in establishing this ministry. I appreciate the hard work of Eddie Joe Williams, Mid-America seminary, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and the Arkansas Department of Correction,” said Hutchinson. “Please know that I am praying for you, for the seminary and for the students whose lives will be changed.”

The seminary is the brainchild of former Arkansas State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams and Dubs Byers, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dumas, and board member of the ADC.

After attending a meeting of legislators on prison reform in New Orleans a few years ago, Williams contacted Burl Cain, who at that time served as warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly referred to as “Angola.” Cain shared how a Christian ministry program had made a tremendous impact on the inmates and culture of Angola, as well as in a similar program in Texas patterned after Angola’s program.

Williams said the visit to the prison exposed him to the prison’s seminary education program that existed under the leadership of Cain.

Byers spent nearly a decade as superintendent of the Arkansas Correctional School, the ADC’s education system. After visiting Angola, and knowing Byers’ experience in prison education and passion for ministry, Williams approached Byers with the idea of creating a similar program in Arkansas.

“This is quite an emotional moment. This is about to come to fruition,” said Byers. “This has been the culmination of years of effort…. There are many people that are making this happen.”

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Source: Baptist Press