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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutherans challenged by growing prison population

By 2011 America’s prison population is projected to increase by 13 percent. With the addition of 191,000 more inmates, the country’s prison population will be more than 1.7 million, according to a report issued by Pew Charitable Trusts.

The largest increase is expected in South Dakota, where the prison population is expected to rise 23 percent, followed by Iowa with a projected growth of 16 percent. The estimates are based on the incidence of drug offenses in these states and law enforcement policies related to incarceration.

William R. Greaver, a pastor called to serve St. Dysmas of South Dakota, an ELCA ecumenical prison ministry, said pastors and volunteers minister at state facilities in Sioux Falls, Springfield and Yankton ("I never want to see you in my church again," January 2007). “We intend to do more of what we’re doing, increasing congregation size (in the state’s prisons), exposing inmates to people from the outside, visiting churches and doing [ministry] better and more often and in more places,” he said.

Greaver said there are two reasons to do prison ministry. The first is faith-based, “In Matthew 25, Jesus doesn’t give us an option. He says go and do it.” The second is to reduce the recidivism (relapse) rate.


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