In a recent talk to Orthodox priests in Philadelphia, John E Wetzel, Secretary of the Department of Corrections for the State of Pennsylvania, urged clergy and parishioners to act as mentors to people in prison and parolees, calling mentoring “the number one factor” in reducing recidivism.
Wetzel, who is himself Orthodox, said the first year out of prison is particularly crucial and that Orthodox parishes can play an important role in supporting the newly paroled. He called Orthodoxy a “path to success” for those just coming out of prison because of the “true community” it provides and its disciplines of fasting and regular worship.
“We need faith communities to be at the table. The Church has an opportunity to be part of the solution,” he said, referring to the current movement to examine how the corrections system can be more effective, including an increased interest in outcomes and re-entry and in methods for reducing recidivism. Orthodox churches can make a difference, by developing relationships with people in prison and parolees and connecting them to a community of support.
Citing staggering statistics—one of every 200 Pennsylvanians is incarcerated in a state prison and 20,000 people are released each year—Wetzel said that it’s time to acknowledge that the Orthodox community isn’t immune: Orthodox persons are in prison, on parole, and families are being impacted. Referring to the stigma in American society of being or having been in prison, he asked if the Church shouldn’t be a place that accepts people who need help.