JASPER COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - The Jasper County Jail is taking steps to reduce re-offense rates with its inmates. One program brings a local church into the jail to provide ministry to the inmates.
"The miracle of that is something to behold," said Jasper County Sheriff Patrick Williamson.
First Church in Wheatfield comes to the Jasper County Jail every Thursday to host a weekly worship service. They only started three months ago, but their mission is to bring positive messages to the inmates. Sheriff Williamson said the church bought all the chairs, sound equipment, and doughnuts provided at the services. The jail provides the coffee.
"Our church was really excited just to build bridges with these families, help them connect with our community, help them with employment, and just show them that we care," said John Hill, who is the Senior Pastor at First Church.
The Minnesota-native said he first came to First Church in 2014. Since then, they have managed to grow the church in numbers, and get it a new building. After having such success helping Sheriff Williamson in starting the Jasper County Recovery House, they wanted to take their help into the jail.
Anthony Gann has been in the jail since March. He said he was arrested for drug use. He feels the positive impact of the message.
"It's awesome to get to have that real church experience while we are in here doing our time," he said. "Some of the best guys I know are in here."
He said before, they only had a bible study as a way to practice their faith. From the sheriff, to the corrections officers, to the inmates themselves, all see a change within the jail.
"The corrections officers have talked about how the entire culture of the jail has shifted," said Pastor Hill. "The inmates are caring for one another and actually thinking about life beyond bars."
The women and men are separated during the service. Sheriff Williamson said nearly half of the inmates currently in the jail chose to attend. The service is voluntary for inmates. He also sees the difference inside the jail.
"We have a quieter atmosphere. In times past, you would hear banging, kicking, yelling, screaming, but now it's very quiet," he said. "They get along well, they treat staff better so we have less incident. It just complements the other things going on in our jail"
Sheriff Williamson got a grant to allow them to start a half-acre garden just outside the jail. The inmates tend to the garden. Some of the produce is then used in the jail kitchen, and the rest is given to community members in need. He said they also share the stories of people who benefit from the garden with the inmates.
"This is a way for them to know they can impact the community in a good way," he said.
They also have an in-house psychologist and therapy pod to address mental health issues, somethin the sheriff prioritizes.
"We are not equipped to handle some of the issues the inmates face," he said. "Often times addiction and mental health go hand-in-hand."
He said having the doctor on the premises has helped address the needs of inmates quicker. They also bring in people from Purdue Extension to help the female inmates learn family care skills. And, they have a team of several inmates who regularly leave to do community service projects around the highway and the county courthouse building.
"The ultimate goal is to help them contribute to their families, which will contribute to society, which will take away the third and fourth generations I'm seeing come back through our jails," he said.
Sheriff Williamson said he is a practicing Christian, and has seen the power that faith can have on people. He believes that power has been proven again inside the jail.
"I believe that Jesus is the only hope in the world," said Pastor Hill. "I think we live in a society that is so quick to condemn people but Jesus was so quick to give people second chances."
A second chance is all the inmates are asking for.
"Don't give up on us," said Gann. "Just because we wear these clothes doesn't mean we are bad people, we just made some dumb decisions."
Gann said he plans to join the church once he gets out in September. He wants to focus on staying on the right path and pursuing his love of music. The church is also connecting the inmates to job opportunities once they get out.
Click here to see a Facebook video of nine inmates being baptized inside the jail.