MIFFLIN - The transition from incarceration into society is difficult without a complete change of people, places and things, said Rev. Gary Krabill.
Krabill is the chaplain of Under His Wings, a faith-based aftercare and discipleship program developed through the Juniata County Prison Ministry, which assists ex-inmates during the transition.
"If you don't have a support system, you tend to make bad decisions," he said, and recidivism is high.
Rather than watching the incarceration rate of repeat offenders climb in Juniata County, the ministry provides a helping hand to individuals seeking help after being released from prison. Since the ministry is funded entirely through private donation, Krabill said participants are chosen carefully to ensure that funds are used appropriately.
"We screen pretty carefully who joins," he said.
Upon entering the program, each participant is assigned a mentor from a sponsoring church.
"The churches become their support system," he explained.
With help from their mentor, participants design a written life plan and begin working through the "Walking Your Faith" cirriculum. Krabill said principles learned through the program are reinforced by the faith community of the church.
For individuals requiring a more structured environment and guidance, Krabill said the ministry offers temporary, transitional housing in Juniata County. To qualify for housing, participants must be accountable to and participating in a sponsoring church, actively meet with a mentor and secure a job within the community. Additionally, residents must tithe a percentage of their income to the ministry and abide by policies and curfews of the house, enforced by houseparent Keith Jackson.
"I think the model is that we're thinking long-term," Krabill said, adding that the ultimate goal is to nurture members of the community and help them grow as Christians. "The strength of the program is the strength of the church."
Though the ministry has faced challenges throughout the years, Krabill said the closing of the Juniata County Prison in July hasn't affected the overall focus of the program. He has been visiting the Mifflin County Correctional Facility regularly to meet with the inmates there, and is working to extend the ministry to Mifflin County.
"There's been some concern," he said, noting that churches can be hesitant to open their communities to ex-inmates.
However, the warden and chaplain of the Mifflin County Correctional Facility have been very receptive to the ministry, he said. If the resources become available, his hope is to open a transitional housing facility in Mifflin County too.
"If God wants it to happen, it will," he said. "God has always provided what we need."
As the ministry grows, Krabill said he also hopes to reach young adults who are struggling before they reach the judicial system.
"We look at what's going to help (program participants) become responsible," he said, "(JCPM) is investing in the community for long-term health."