Support your local prison chaplain
February 28 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Support your local prison chaplain | Friday, Feb. 28, 2003
  • Fewer professionals could also mean fewer volunteers. One role of state-funded prison chaplains is the recruitment, training, coordination and supervision of volunteer ministries from local congregations. With no one to recruit and train, the number and effectiveness of volunteers could also decline. With no one on staff to supervise, prison wardens might be less likely to welcome volunteers.
  • Volunteers could be at greater risk. The professional chaplain ensures that volunteers follow appropriate security policies, which promotes the safety and well being of all concerned.
  • Prison stress could mount. State-funded chaplains are clinically trained to provide counseling to both staff and inmates, helping them to deal with the inherent tensions of the prison setting and providing grief or crisis counseling when needed. Without this service, stress levels could grow for both inmates and staff, increasing the likelihood of conflict, disciplinary problems and violence.
  • Some faith traditions could be ignored. Prisoners retain the right to worship freely in their own faith traditions. State-funded chaplains understand the complexity of the constitutional issues involved, and work to provide worship opportunities for all inmates, whether they be protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Rastafarian. Religious volunteers are unlikely to promote anything other than their own faith tradition, and most are unequipped to try. A failure to provide these services could lead to increased tensions, grievances and possible lawsuits from those who have no outlet for worship.
  • Recidivism could increase. Trained chaplains provide the consistent presence, the trusted relationships and the specialized training needed to help inmates become spiritually whole and better prepared to lead a productive life when they are released from prison. Without them, it is likely that more parolees would return to crime - and to prison.

    These and other reasons offer compelling arguments for retaining our current staff of state-funded prison chaplains and restoring the positions cut in 2002. The price could be less than what the system could face if there are increases in prison violence, lawsuits and recidivism. Cost, however, is not the only concern. Both compassion and the constitution compel us to provide basic services, including opportunities for spiritual growth, to the prison population.

    In response to these concerns, the Baptist State Convention's General Board approved a resolution proposed by the Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs at its Jan. 28 meeting. The resolution affirms that biblical faith promotes the concept of restorative justice, that Baptists have historically promoted religious liberty, and that a vote at the BSC's annual meeting on Nov. 12, 2002 supported the work of state-funded chaplains.

    It further states that "the present chaplaincy system ensures access by inmates to freedom of worship in their faith traditions, provides a vital contribution toward the safety, security and general health of correctional facilities operated by the North Carolina Department of Corrections, and encourages volunteer involvement, providing the best link between the correctional unit and the community."

    The resolution goes on to request that current chaplains be retained, and that funding cuts from 2002 be restored.

    Copies of the resolution were sent to all N.C. legislators, but such material is easily overlooked, especially amid the hoopla of the current House of Representatives' struggle to get organized enough to begin work.

    Personal letters, phone calls and e-mails do make a difference. Contact information for all N. C. legislators can be found at www.ncleg.net.

    They need to hear what Baptists think: the chaplaincy budget for the Department of Correction needs some serious correction.

  • Friday, Feb. 28, 2003

    Support your local prison chaplain

    By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

    As budget woes continue for the state of North Carolina, many good and useful programs will face the sharp end of the budgetary ax. The crucial services provided by state-funded prison chaplains suffered heavy losses in 2002, as $1.6 million and 24 positions were cut by the legislature.

    That leaves just 35 chaplains to serve the needs of more than 33,000 inmates in 80 different correctional centers scattered across North Carolina.

    Why should that be a matter of concern?

    Some might say, "inmates are in prison because they committed a crime, and we shouldn't have to spend our money providing religious services for them."

    But, if society's goal for the prison system involves rehabilitation as well as punishment, the inclusion of a spiritual component is most appropriate.

    For Christian believers, providing ministry to inmates is not only proper, but essential. After all, when Jesus cited examples of the most meaningful kinds of ministry, He was careful to include "I was in prison, and you visited me" (Matt. 25:36).

    State lawmakers expressed hope that local churches would step in and fill the gap caused by the staff cuts. Many individuals and congregations are already involved in volunteer prison ministries, but there are significant reasons why trained, state-funded clinical chaplains are still needed.

    Here are a few arguments for why we need more professional prison chaplains, not less.

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    2/28/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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