Criminal Justice

Born-Again Prison Reformer


A tough-on-crime legislator has undergone an incredible transformation following a 26-month prison stint.

California Assemblyman Pat Nolan got caught up in an FBI sting operation known as Shrimpscam and pleaded guilty to racketeering. Since his release, “he morphed into a humble, Bible-quoting ex-con who travels the country denouncing the American penal system as a failure,” according to a Los Angeles Times profile.

Nolan is president of Justice Fellowship, a group that is part of Prison Fellowship Ministries, formed by Charles Colson after going to prison for Watergate-related charges. Nolan also heads a “strike team” appointed by California’s governor to address prison reform.

A former attorney, Nolan denounces prisons as warehouses that don’t train inmates for re-entry into society. His group says communities need to become part of the solution by providing mentoring and helping ex-cons find jobs.

Nolan says rehabilitation is particularly difficult for inmates who lack education, job skills and the support of their families. Prison is a “boiling cauldron” where guards scream at prisoners and tell them they are worthless, he says.

In his view, that kind of environment does nothing to rehabilitate prisoners, 95 percent of whom are eventually released.

“I really believed that God allowed me to go through this experience, all the pain of it, partly to prepare me to share with others the message that there is a better way,” he told the newspaper.

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