Marilyn Armour, Ph.D.
Bridges to Life (BTL) is a manualized, 12-week, ecumenical faith-based program that uses a restorative justice approach to bring victim volunteers into Texas prisons and jails to meet face-to-face with pre-release offenders a) to reduce the recidivism of program graduates and b) to facilitate the healing process of victim volunteers and offenders. The purpose of this research was to examine survey data collected by BTL on offender, victim, and facilitator satisfaction with BTL and suggestions to improve BTL.
The aims of the study were as follows:
- to examine responses to four Likert-scale questions about BTL program components.
- to conduct a thematic analysis of offender responses to three open ended questions about offender satisfaction and two open ended questions about offender recommendations for future BTL projects.
Data were collected using a nine-item survey. The sample included 879 offenders, 90 volunteer victims, and 52 facilitators who voluntarily completed surveys between 2000 and 2004. Of offenders, 86% were male and 14% were female; mean age was 36 years old; 36% were White, 45% were Black, and 19% were Hispanic. Offenses included 33.1% violent crime; 30.3% drug offenses; 26.1% burglary, theft and shoplifting.
Descriptive statistics were used to examine responses to the Likert-scale questions and to analyze the demographic data. Thematic analysis was used to derive the themes in participant responses to the open ended questions. Frequencies were calculated for each of the themes.
When asked what they received most from the program, offender participants highlighted their experiences in small groups (42.3%), awareness of the impact of crime (38.3%) and improved self management (20.1%). When asked about the program’s deterrence effect on their possible return to prison, offender participants indicated that their ‘two worlds (their former life and what they know now) no longer mix (35.7%), they have a heightened sense of responsibility (24.2%) and they’ve changed (16.2%).
This study provides initial information about the impact of an in-prison restorative justice program. Although BTL has a low 12.4% recidivism rate, this study provides information from participants themselves about the significant components in the BTL program and its personal impact on their lives. Results of the study will help delineate the proximal variables to be measured in an experimental design stud that uses random assignment to assess the impact of BTL on recidivism.
Keywords: domestic violence, sexual violence, community violence, sexual abuse