Baylor University Researchers Conclude American Bible Society’s Bible-based Trauma Healing Program Brings Lasting Healing to Jail Inmates in Virginia

Note: This is the executive summary of the full report. Get the full report here.


An independent randomized controlled trial of American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Program (THP), contextualized for correctional facilities, was conducted with a sample of 349 inmates, housed in a regional jail. Five-day healing groups were led by trained volunteers from the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry (GNJPM). Compared to the control group, THP participants saw significantly decreased PTSD; enhanced emotional well-being; increased forgiveness, compassion, and resilience; increased spiritual impact of the Bible, positive beliefs about the Bible, and positive attitudes toward God, among other benefits. 

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The study resulted in a 34,000-word report authored by Drs. Byron R. Johnson, Sung Joon Jang, and Matt Bradshaw of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion in December of 2020. The detailed report will be released to the public in the spring of 2021 and will be followed by peer-reviewed publications, aimed at social science journals such as Criminology. Following are three key highlights from the Baylor University report: 


The effectiveness of the program was evaluated first by comparing program participants to a control group of volunteers who were randomly assigned to wait to participate in a healing group. Participants saw significant improvement in four key areas: 

A. Decreased Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD). 

PTSD GraphCompared to the general public, inmates at the jail experienced relatively high levels of post-traumatic stress. Overall, 70% of inmates at the jail tested positive for PTSD. For THP participants, PTSD scores decreased significantly from M = 22.4 before the healing group to M = 14.8 after participation. The control group showed no significant change in their PTSD scores, on average (M = 19.7 pre-test; M = 18.7 post-test). 

Other indicators of negative emotional states showed similar patterns of healing for participants, while the control group showed little change. These indicators include complicated grief, negative emotions, depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, and suicidal ideation. 

B. Increased Emotional Health

Forgiveness graph
Similarly, jail inmates tend to struggle with emotional health. THP participants saw improved emotional health as indicated by increased forgiveness (M = 2.78 pre-test; M = 3.78 post-test), compassion (M = 3.18 pre-test; M = 3.34 post-test), resilience (M = 3.00 pre-test; M = 3.38 post-test),  reasons for living (M = 4.69 pre-test; M = 4.93 post-test), and decreased vengefulness (M = 2.32 pre-test; M = 1.92 post-test).



C.  Positive Interactions with the Bible

Graph Beliefs about the BibleImportantly, the THP invites participants into a biblical journey toward emotional healing, and participants experienced significant changes in their attitude toward the Bible and in their spiritual experience of God through the Bible. Positive beliefs about the Bible increased significantly for program participants (M = 3.46 pre-test; M = 3.58 post-test), while remaining unchanged for the control group. Similarly, the spiritual impact of the Bible increased for participants (M = 4.11 pre-test; M = 4.35 post-test) but was unchanged for the control group.


D. Positive Attitudes toward God.

God's purpose in life graphIt is common for people to blame God for the pain they face. Compared to the control group, participants in the THP saw significant increases in their view of God’s engagement in their lives, God’s purpose in life, presence of meaning in life, and gratitude to God.






Program impact persistence graphWhenever possible, participants were assessed at four time points: (1) pre-program, (2) post-program (i.e., Day 5), (3) one month post-program, and (4) three months post-program. The THP significantly reduced PTSD, trauma-related grief, negative emotions, vengefulness, and blaming God for trauma. The program increased forgiveness, compassion, resilience, sense of God’s engagement, support from family and friends, and meaning in life. All these effects were still significant three months after program completion.




Study summary statistics chart

© American Bible Society, 2021