Federal, state, and local prisons and jails include chaplains to varying degrees. All federal prisons, including ICE detention centers, have chaplains. Their presence and work by state was detailed most comprehensively by a recent Pew Report. Key professional organizations for correctional chaplaincy include the following. If you’ve got more resources you think we should include on this sector, let us know at email@example.com.
American Correctional Chaplains Association
The ACCA provides a multifaceted definition of correctional chaplaincy:
What are correctional chaplains?
Much like our colleagues in the military and at hospitals, correctional chaplains provide pastoral care to those who are disconnected from the general community by certain circumstances – in this case to those who are imprisoned, as well as to correctional facility staff and their families when requested. Where permitted, we also minister to the families of prisoners.
Each correctional chaplain is also a representative of his or her faith community and is required to be endorsed by their denominational body in order to qualify as a chaplain.
Correctional chaplains are professionals, with specialized training in the unique dynamics of the corrections world. Most serve as full-time correctional facility employees or part-time contract employees.
Specific duties of correctional chaplains
Correctional facility staff chaplains act as religious programs managers, insuring that all prisoners are afforded the opportunities to practice the faiths of their choice and coordinating the various activities of those faith groups. This requires extensive knowledge of the standards and practices of a diverse range of faiths and denominations therein.
Chaplains provide pastoral counseling, thereby affording opportunities for the imprisoned and others impacted by corrections to dialogue openly about their concerns. This frequently includes notification of death or other tragedy and grief counseling in such situations – particularly difficult tasks that require special sensitivity.
Chaplains provide marriage counseling when needed, both to those already married and those contemplating marriage.
Chaplains perform liturgical duties for their own religious denominations.
Chaplains are the primary advisors on and implementers of religious program policy, clarifying issues involving various faith practices, religious articles, religious diets and other religious standards and insuring that these are permitted to fullest extent possible within usually restrictive corrections environs.
Chaplains are responsible for religious volunteer recruitment, training and coordination, working closely with representatives of the various faith communities to encourage community participation in correctional facility programs and insuring that volunteer activities are conducted in a diverse, yet secure manner.
Chaplains are very much a part of the orderly operation of correctional facilities by providing positive reinforcement and diffusing frustration, anger and stress amongst prisoners and staff, thereby lessening threats, assaults and other negative behaviors. Chaplains positively impact the finances of correctional facilities by resolving disputes, averting harm to individuals and damage to facilities and the lawsuits that may result from such occurrences and issues of religious rights.
Chaplains represent corrections, particularly in matters of community liaison, advising other clergy and laypersons of corrections matters and thereby raising the awareness of the larger religious and secular communities to the uniqueness of correctional issues.
Chaplains are important in a correctional setting because they help offenders develop a healthy attitude toward themselves and staff in the prison where the offenders are incarcerated; Chaplains help offenders develop a positive spiritual reality regardless of religious preference and they help promote spiritual growth that will assist in an orderly transition from a prison environment to the outside community.
Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association
Mission of the CMCA
Connect, encourage, equip and strengthen Christians as they fulfill the Great Commission in Corrections.
Christians working together in correctional ministry to advance Christ’s Kingdom and enhance public safety.
- We value the sacrifice Jesus made for mankind, therefore we are committed to making Christ known
- We value the power and primacy of prayer, therefore we pray
- We value God’s love for people, therefore we enjoy fellowship with them
- We value Jesus’ forgiving love, therefore we forgive
- We value Christ’s redemptive power, therefore we bring His healing to the hurting
- We value God’s earthly plan for humanity, therefore we submit to those in authority
- We value God’s creative diversity, therefore we respect people’s uniqueness
- We value the Church’s teamwork in the harvest, therefore we work together
- We value God’s perfecting work in us, therefore we strive for excellence
- We value God’s patience with his people, therefore we are longsuffering
- We value a life of faith, therefore we forge new ministries
- We value each individual’s calling to share God’s love, therefore we affirm you
United States Department of Justice
Resources for Chaplains
- Covert, Ministry to the Incarcerated
- Evans, Essential Chaplain Skill Sets: Discovering Effective Ways to Provide Excellent Spiritual Care
- Hear My Voice: A Prison Prayer Book [produced by the ELCA]
- Introduction to Prison Chaplaincy [600-level course syllabus from Ambrose University]
Note: the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab does not endorse any specific resources; it passes along information that may be useful to chaplains or other spiritual care providers in various settings.