You Came Unto Me

A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” —Matthew 25:43


Institutional And Inmate Typology


The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. . . (Isaiah 61:1)


Upon conclusion of this chapter you will be able to:

            ∙          Demonstrate understanding of institutional security levels.

            ∙          Discuss differences between jails, prisons, and other facilities.

            ∙          Discuss common inmate typology.

            ∙          Explain how to deal with inmates who maintain their innocence.


Are some inmates considered more dangerous than others? Are there any differences between a jail and a prison? Do inmates share any common characteristics? How do you respond to someone who maintains their innocence? These are key issues that are addressed in this chapter.


Each jail and prison is unique, but most institutions are classified by the type of inmates they house:

            ∙          Maximum security institutions: These house inmates that are the greatest risk, perhaps due to the nature of their crime or their behavior in prison. Death rows are usually located in maximum security institutions. These inmates have very close supervision and their participation in institutional programs run by volunteers is sometimes restricted.

            ∙          Medium security institutions: These are less violent inmates who do not pose a great security or escape risk. They do not require as much supervision and may be allowed to freely participate in religious programs.

            ∙          Minimum security institutions: These are composed of inmates who are close to their release date, incarcerated for non-violent crimes, or those who have proven themselves to be extremely reliable and trustworthy. They may even work outside the prison on occasion and usually have freedom to participate in religious programs.

Some institutions house all three security levels in various areas of the same facility. Each of these levels are often found in jails also. Institutions sometimes clothe the inmates in uniforms of differing colors to identify the various security levels.


Although jails and prisons both house offenders, there are differences between the two. Prison inmates have been tried and convicted. Jail is usually the entry point for all prisoners. Many jail inmates haven't been convicted of anything yet. Most are being held pending trial. Some are being held pending sentencing. Some may be serving sentences so brief that it doesn’t warrant sending them to a prison.

Prison population is relatively stable. People serve longer terms so you have more time to work with them. Jail population is very transient. People are held in jails only while awaiting trial, sentencing, or serving brief sentences. Your time with them is limited.

Some prisons have at least a minimum of facilities and programs for counseling and rehabilitation, but most jails have few or none. Prisons usually have better facilities for group meetings such as church services and group Bible studies.

The physical, emotional, and psychological conditions of jail inmates are different from and less favorable than those in prisons. There is usually no privacy in which to talk with individual inmates in jails. The prisoners in jails are often bored, restless, and fearful. Most of all, uncertainty rules their lives.


Other types of programs of confinement include:

∙          Work release centers: Allow an inmate to hold a job in the community during the day and return to the center for confinement at night.

∙          Halfway house: For persons on parole. They are required to stay at the house while seeking employment and a permanent place to live. They may be required to complete certain counseling or training programs offered at the halfway house.

∙          Road camp, fire camp, forestry camp, or work farm: Inmates work on roads, fight fires, or work on public forests or a farm.

∙          Detention, juvenile hall, or reformatory: Typically for young offenders to be kept separate from older prisoners.

Despite the distracting environment, jails, prisons, and other penal programs are some of the greatest spiritual harvest fields in the world. Jesus only had a few minutes with the dying thief on the cross, but his entire destiny was changed for all eternity.


Each inmate is unique. God loves each one and is not willing that any should perish. There is no “typical” inmate in God’s sight, but there are some common characteristics that will help you understand the majority.

Education: Often, the educational level of inmates is low.

Home environment: Inmates often come from homes where there was abuse, divorce, little supervision, and no discipline.

Vocational training: Many inmates have little or no vocational training. They may have been unsuccessful at obtaining or maintaining employment or labored at low paying jobs.

Self-image: Inmates often have low self-image because they have been rejected by society, friends, or family.

Emotional profile: Many inmates suffer from guilt over what they have done or put their families through. Depression, hopelessness, and hostility are common.

Social responsibility: Inmates sometimes have a limited sense of social responsibility. They may feel no remorse for their crime or that they got a “bad break” from the system by coming to prison.

Common Offenses: Four crimes account for the majority of prison inmates in most countries: Robbery, burglary, murder, and narcotics violations. Other common reasons for incarceration are sexual offenses, kidnapping, assault, embezzlement, forgery, and fraud.

Inmates also assume various roles in prison that you should be aware of in ministry: 

            ∙          “Hecklers” may come to a Bible class as earnest students and then disrupt by asking unanswerable questions. They may try to pour out scandalous stories about the church and ministers or turn testimony time into a gripe session. Maintain control of group sessions by continually bringing the group back to the subject at hand.

            ∙          Perennial seekers respond to every altar call due to a lack of understanding of what conversion is all about, a desire to please you, or because they have lived like a sinner since they last responded. Continue to receive them warmly when they respond and pray with them. When they are secure in their relationship with God and really understand conversion, they will change.

            ∙          Manipulators are those who may be charming and agreeable, but try to use you to accomplish their own purposes. Review “How To Avoid A Setup” in Chapter Eleven of this manual for suggestions in how to deal with them.

            ∙          Institutionalized inmates are those who have been confined for a lengthy period of time and have difficulty functioning apart from an institutional setting. If they return to prison after paroling, don’t be discouraged. They may be sincere in their confession of the Lord but just need more skills for adjusting to life outside.

Remember--these characteristics are not true of all inmates. Some are very educated and held high paying jobs. Some came from good homes and supportive families. Some are sincere seekers, desiring to learn about God. These general characteristics are based on numerous studies of the majority of prison inmates.

Most important, remember to view each inmate not as they were, or even as they are. View them as the valiant men and women of God that they will become when the Gospel has supernaturally impacted their lives!


Many inmates maintain their innocence. For some who are actually guilty, this can be an escape mechanism. They cannot face what they did, so they rationalize or blame others. But please—be aware—some inmates who maintain their innocence actually are innocent! There have been many cases where inmates were released from prison after it was proven—beyond a doubt—that they were wrongly convicted. (This applies to former death row inmates also!)

You are not there to judge the guilt or innocence of an inmate. You are there to be a friend and minister God’s love to them. Be supportive. Tell them you will pray for God to undertake in their case and for justice to be done.

Remember that--for various reasons--many heroes of the faith ended up with prison records. Joseph spent at least two years in prison after he was falsely accused of attempted rape (Genesis 39). Samson was imprisoned by the Philistines (Judges 16). Jeremiah was put into King Zedekiah’s dungeon twice, once for unpopular preaching and once when falsely accused of treason (Jeremiah 32,37).

Many of the apostles were thrown into prison by the Sadducees (Acts 5). Herod imprisoned John the Baptist (Matthew 4) and Peter (Acts 12), as well as Paul. The apostle Paul had a lengthy prison record. He served sentences in Jerusalem (Acts 23), in Caesarea (Acts 23), a local jail in Philippi (Acts 16), and probably two different times in a prison in Rome.

Christians have been imprisoned throughout church history—John Bunyan and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are two most notable believers who were incarcerated. Modern China, Russia, and Uganda have seen thousands of believers imprisoned and martyred.

Jesus said that being a faithful Christian may lead to prison (Matthew 10 and 24). Conversely, being a prisoner may also lead to faith--as one death row inmate discovered on Calvary.

Always remember . . . there are great men and women of faith on both sides of the prison wall.

Always remember . . .

There are great men and women of

faith on both sides of the prison wall.


1. Write the key verse from memory.



2. List and describe the common security levels.



3. Discuss the differences between jails and prisons.



4. What are some other facilities of confinement discussed in this chapter?



5. Discuss what you learned in this chapter regarding inmate typology.





6. How should you deal with inmates who maintain their innocence?



(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)