Timeline: History of Prison Fellowship

Charles W. Colson, a top aide to President Richard Nixon, entered a plea of guilty to Watergate-related charges; although not implicated in the Watergate burglary, he voluntarily pled guilty to obstruction of justice. As a new Christian and the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges, he entered Alabama's Maxwell Prison in 1974. He served seven months of a one- to three-year sentence.

After leaving prison in 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, the nation's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families, and BreakPoint, which equips Christians to live out their faith in the culture. 

Prison Fellowship International was formed in 1979 under the direction of Colson. It has since expanded to include offices in 112 countries. 

Prison Fellowship introduced Angel Tree®, a year-round program that works with children of prisoners and their families through thousands of local churches. 

Prison Fellowship began its criminal justice reform program Justice Fellowship, which advocates for prisoners' rights and works with federal and state governments to help them apply the principles of restorative justice to America's criminal justice system. 

Prison Fellowship first awarded its annual William Wilberforce Award to Filipino democracy advocate Benigno Aquino (posthumously). The award is bestowed annually on an individual who has made a significant contribution to confronting and rectifying societal problems and injustices. It is given in honor of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century British parliamentarian who stood against his party in his campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Prison Fellowship launched a daily radio feature called "BreakPoint with Chuck Colson," a unique attempt to provide a distinct Christian perspective on current issues and conflicts. Today, BreakPoint equips Christians to live out their faith in the culture via radio, interactive media and print, with the syndicated radio program aired daily on some 1,000 outlets nationwide.

In an effort to help Christians view the issues of the day from a biblical perspective, Colson and BreakPoint launched The Wilberforce Forum, a network of writer's scholars and speakers who promote a Christian worldview and annually recognize Christians of influence through the Wilberforce Award. 

In response to a request from Aaron Johnson, the secretary of North Carolina's Department of Corrections, Prison Fellowship brought a unique faith-based outreach program to all of North Carolina's 94 prisons. This began Starting Line, a nine-year ministry run by Prison Fellowship that conducted programs in more than 500 prisons in America.

Colson received the Templeton Prize for progress in religion, donating the $1 million prize to Prison Fellowship.

Prison Fellowship launched Neighbors Who Care, a nonprofit victims-assistance organization, that addressed how to care for and respond to those who are often overlooked in the justice process—the victims. Though Neighbors Who Care ceased to be a subsidiary of Prison Fellowship in 2000, Prison Fellowship continues to equip churches with resources to minister to victims of crime.

Prison Fellowship launched The InnerChange Freedom Initiative on April 21. The first prison to implement this full-time, faith-based prison program is located in Richmond, Texas. Prison Fellowship provides all programming and staffing.

In January, the Winfield Correctional Center in Kansas opened the second InnerChange Freedom Initiative program. To accommodate more inmates, this program has since moved (June 1, 2002) to the Ellsworth Correctional Facility.

The third InnerChange Freedom Initiative program opened at the Newton Correctional Facility in Newton, Iowa, on April 1.

Angel Tree expanded its program to a year-round outreach to children of prisoners and began working with churches to test a long-term mentoring and summer camp experience.

Prison Fellowship joined a collaboration of more than a dozen Christian organizations to bring a unique, faith-based prison outreach program called Operation Starting Line to every prison in the United States.

Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree Camping® program launched in eight cities and sent 4,100 kids to Christian, summer camps.

In February, former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley was named president and CEO of Prison Fellowship. In July, the fourth InnerChange Freedom Initiative program opened at the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility, in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. In its second year, Angel Tree Camping sent 6,500 children of prisoners to summer camp.

In June, a University of Pennsylvania study was released, showing that graduates of InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Texas were 50 percent less likely to be re-arrested and 60 percent less likely to be re-incarcerated, compared to the matched comparison group.

Some 550,000 children received gifts from their incarcerated parent through Angel Tree Christmas, while some 10,000 children of prisoners went to summer camp through Angel Tree Camping. 

Prison Fellowship relocated to its new campus in Lansdowne, Virgina, which includes a state-of-the-art training center.

Founder Chuck Colson stepped down as chairman of the board of Prison Fellowship USA and announced the board's selection of Michael Timmis as chairman. Colson remained a member of the board and continued to pursue his extensive writing, speaking, and teaching work with Prison Fellowship. The InnerChange Freedom Initiative expanded, launching a men's program in Arkansas and women's programs in Arkansas and Minnesota. 

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative added a men's program in Missouri in March and a women's program in June. The faith-based prisoner rehabilitation program now operates in six states. Prison Fellowship's parent company changed its name to PFM. The Christian, nonprofit organization is now comprised of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint, which equips Christians to live out their faith in today's culture. In addition, BreakPoint launched a new daily radio commentary on 187 outlets in 33 states across America. Titled The Point, the program hosted by Mark Earley offers—in a quick 60-second bite—a biblical take on issues that Christians confront each day.

On April 9, President Bush signed the Second CHANCE Act of 2007, aimed at reducing recidivism and increasing public safety. Prison Fellowship worked for four years on this legislation that authorized $362 million to improve the way U.S. prisons prepare inmates to reenter society.

Prison Fellowship launched its first Spanish-language radio show to listeners in California, Arizona and Mexico. Prison Fellowship joined other volunteers to run the faith-based dorm at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas. Colson’s book The Faith was published by Zondervan.

Under the BreakPoint banner, Colson, along with Dr. Robert George and Dr. Timothy George, launched the Manhattan Declaration at the National Press Club, speaking in defense of the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious liberty.

Justice Fellowship saw a victory after 14 years of work as Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act. Colson Center's project Doing the Right Thing was recorded before a live audience at Princeton University. Goodwill Industries International and Prison Fellowship signed collaboration agreement for job training and mentoring services for at-risk youth and ex-offenders. Mark Earley stepped down as president of PFM.

Jim Liske was appointed CEO
of Prison Fellowship and Garland Hunt became president. The Point with John Stonestreet aired on 729 stations nationwide. One hundred students graduated from the seventh class of the Centurions Program.

Colson passed away
April 21, leaving a rich legacy in prison ministry and Christian worldview teaching. Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet assumed co-host responsibility for the BreakPoint radio broadcasts.

Angel Tree served 364,198 children
of prisoners at Christmas. In June the Colson Legacy Center was dedicated at the Lansdowne facility, commemorating Chuck’s life and work.

In December, Liske was recognized for his thought leadership on faith-based criminal justice reform when Congress appointed him to the Chuck Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The nine-member bipartisan task force is named for Prison Fellowship’s founder and is charged with examining challenges in the federal corrections system and developing practical, data-driven policy responses.

In July, Prison Fellowship hosted “Crime and Redemption: Seeking a Biblical View of Justice,” a discussion of how faith should influence our response to crime and people returning from prison, featuring Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Additionally, Craig DeRoche, senior vice president for advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship, testified in October before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on historic reform legislation, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, that provides a restorative approach to criminal justice.

James Ackerman was appointed president and CEO of Prison Fellowship. Prison Fellowship celebrated its 40th year with the creation of the Charles Colson Hope Awards.