Below is a press release from the Mississippi Department of Corrections:
Mississippi state prisons, inmates and programs will be put under the microscope for the next two years by two of the nation’s leading research universities.
Pepperdine University President Jim Gash and famed criminal justice researcher Dr. Byron Johnson of Baylor University team up to study MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain’s changes to Mississippi prisons. The intensive 2-year research project will include Gash, Johnson and their teams looking at the prison system from different angles. Researchers meet with inmates, correctional officers and Commissioner Cain to observe how reintegration and seminary programs help inmates improve their lives.
“Too often those who are incarcerated and those who are not look at and define themselves by their worst choices on their worst day. And they become ostracized and marginalized by others, but that’s also an internal thing,” Gash said. “It is also a failure to believe that they are capable of being forgiven, that they are capable of this redemption, of being restored.”
This research project will build on the earlier examination of Commissioner Cain’s legacy of improving prisons with difficult histories. Baylor and Pepperdine chose Mississippi as a follow-up to a previous 5-year study of Commissioner Cain’s success in seminary, back-to-school, and denominational programs. Cain’s programs have been credited with transforming the infamous prison in Angola, Louisiana from the bloodiest in America into a model of calm, order and education.
The two project leaders said their research would be as beneficial to society as it was to prisoners.
“Ministers coming out of prisons can actually help us understand what’s wrong with society and add something to it, so in many ways prisoners can help us just as they help each other. That’s what we want to learn,” Johnson said.
Gash is in his eighth term as the eighth president and CEO of Pepperdine University. In addition to being the first alumnus to lead the university, Gash’s credentials include writing books, serving as a law professor, and overseeing numerous signature development initiatives, among other credits.
Dr. Johnson is a senior fellow at the Religious Liberty Institute and professor emeritus of social sciences at Baylor University. Johnson is an authority on the scientific study of religion, the effectiveness of faith-based organizations, and criminal justice. His most recent publications have examined the impact of faith-based programs on reducing recidivism and rehabilitating prisoners.