When he goes to prison, Imam Sidney Rahim Sharif has one goal in mind: changing the way inmates think and act.

Sharif worked as a Chicago police officer for 28 years and now heads a group called the Islamic Inmates Corrections Association of America. The organization works with Muslim inmates while they’re behind bars and upon their release.

With more than 2 million inmates in its prisons, the United States has the highest prison population in the world, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

In Arizona, the prison population has risen substantially over the last 30 years, growing from about 3,000 in 1979 to 40,000 in 2010, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Curbing prison violence and reducing the rates of recidivism are Sharif’s two primary goals. His organization provides mentoring, counseling and religious services.

It continues to help inmates with acquiring identification and restoring their rights once they’ve served their sentence.

The group measures its success by the number of inmates who remain stable socially and economically once they leave prison, and by that standard, Sharif says, his group has proved to be effective so far.

“We also have, in the institution itself, men who are actually showing that they are sincere about trying to correct themselves,” Sharif says. “We had a recent riot in a prison here in Wilmot, where one of the Muslim inmates actually assisted one of the correctional officers to safety during the middle of that riot. So we do know that we get positive results.”

He says working with prisoners now will give them both the desire and the tools to successfully integrate back into society upon their release.

Sharif’s ultimate goal for the inmates: “That they can stand up and be the men they were created to be, the women they were created to be and be a service to their communities and to themselves.”