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Chaplains: God's Partners in Prison

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 65 Issue: 7 Dated: December 2003 Pages: 122-125
Judith Coleman
Date Published
December 2003
4 pages
This article discusses the chaplains’ role in the corrections community.
Many in corrections believe that chaplains are among the most important staff in prisons. Prison chaplains make the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution real because even though inmates have lost many other freedoms, the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Chaplains were one of the first organized groups of corrections professionals. Chaplaincy has come a long way since the days when community clergy would visit inmates primarily to “save souls” and when the sermons were hollered down the hall to inmates locked in cells. Today, chaplains often have private rooms or offices. Inmates can be in the privacy of a chaplain’s office when they receive word of the death of a loved one or participate in weekly group pastoral counseling sessions in private rooms. Chaplains not only teach religious subjects now, but other helpful relational topics such as conflict-resolution skills. Chaplains are still the spiritual leaders behind bars, but these days, they are not always male, not always ordained, and not always Christian. The staff chaplain must have an ecumenical and interfaith spirit. Chaplains need people skills to communicate effectively with treatment staff, correctional officers, and inmates and must use spiritual discernment to balance religious needs and security. Prison chaplains provide pastoral counseling, religious teaching and preaching, lead worship for their own faith, conduct funeral and/or memorial services, give death notices, recruit and coordinate volunteers, walk death row inmates to the execution chamber, and provide family ministry to inmate mothers that keep their children with them. It is best for a warden or personnel team to acquire chaplaincy candidate names through a council of churches or interfaith commission that will check credentials.