By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A faith-based prison program is celebrating 15 years of helping inmates decrease the risk of re-offending.

Prison Fellowship Academy at Lino Lakes uses support from community mentors to help inmates realize they are not defined by the crime that put them to prison.

WCCO was allowed inside to see how the fellowship is not only changing lives, but saving the state of Minnesota money.

A room inside the facility has been home to the program that’s designed to restore inmates who have been affected by crime and incarceration.

“If you go into prison and you’re kind of a hardened criminal, your world view, your purpose of life is very different than a person who sees that God has a plan for your life, that God has a purpose for your life, and that God wants to provide you an opportunity to live out your God-given potential,” said Prison Fellowship CEO James Ackerman.

Prison Fellowship Academy (credit: CBS)

Prison Fellowship helps change the way inmates think — 150 inmates at a time.

The 18-month program is based on life values and the teachings of Jesus Christ, but you don’t have to be a Christian to participate.

Ackerman says there is a 40-percent reduction in recidivism for inmates in the program, saving the state money.

“It saves the state money because less people need to be incarcerated if they’re not coming back into prison, right?” Ackerman said.

Prison Fellowship graduate George Lang says the program was a game changer for him.

“Change doesn’t start from the day you get out. Change starts from the time that you’re in,” Lang said. “They modeled to me, the pieces that I learned here, not only the cognizant pieces, but it was the Christ-centered teachings that they brought.”

Lang is now the executive director of Freedom Works in north Minneapolis, a faith-based nonprofit that provides a safe and sober environment for people who want to stay out of prison.

Prison Fellowship does not use tax dollars, and instead operates solely on individual donations and foundations.

The program is a model for other parts of the country. The goal is to have a program for men and women in every state.

Reg Chapman