Profile of State Prison Chaplains
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All of the 730 survey respondents work as professional
prison chaplains or religious services coordinators in state prisons, including
privately run prisons that operate under state contracts. Their workplace
environs vary, with most serving in facilities designed for male inmates and
housing an average of about 2,000 inmates (mean = 1,965 inmates). The chaplains
are a well-educated group, with a majority holding graduate degrees in religion-related
fields. About seven-in-ten identify themselves as Protestants (71%), and 44%
say their denomination belongs to the evangelical Protestant tradition. Generally
speaking, the chaplains indicate that they hold theologically conservative
views when it comes to their religion. A majority say their social and
political views are conservative as well.
serve in a wide range of settings. Most of those surveyed work in a single
correctional facility, although a quarter (25%) divide their time across
About eight-in-ten report that they are employed directly by a state
correctional system (81%). Other arrangements include working as a contractor (8%),
working for a private prison management firm (5%) or working through a
religious organization (5%).
expected from the composition of the U.S. prison system, most chaplains (81%)
say they work exclusively with male inmates.15
Most also work in a rural setting (66%). About half of chaplains identify their
workplace as a medium-security facility (49%) while one-third are employed in
maximum-security institutions (33%) and the remainder work in minimum-security
prisons (13%) or did not specify a security level (5%).16
chaplains’ level of direct contact with inmates varies considerably. Nearly
half of the chaplains surveyed report having direct, one-on-one contact with about
a quarter (39%) or fewer (8%) of the inmates in the prisons where they work.
About a fifth (19%) have direct contact with about half of the inmates, and the
remainder say they interact with about three-quarters (12%) or with almost all inmates
plurality of chaplains work in facilities that contain more than 1,000 and fewer
than 2,500 inmates. For those working in a single facility, the average number
of inmates reported is 1,965. The median number is 1,500, meaning that half of
the chaplains working in single facilities are responsible for 1,500 or more
inmates. Those working in multiple facilities report a wide range of inmates,
from about 120 to more than 50,000. On average, these chaplains are responsible
for a total of 4,968 inmates across all the facilities in which they work; the
median number of inmates they are responsible for is 1,962.
Job Experience and Demographic
About half of the chaplains surveyed (53%) have 10 or
fewer years on the job in the state prison system, 34% have between 11 and 20
years of service and 12% have worked as prison chaplains for more than 20
years. The average tenure is 11.3 years.
Most of the chaplains surveyed are male (85%), and their
average age is 57. Only 16% are under 50. About two-thirds (65%) are between 50
and 64 years old, and 17% are 65 or older.
(70%) of the chaplains surveyed are non-Hispanic whites, 18% are black, 5% are
Hispanic and 5% are Asian or some other race, and 2% did not specify.
half (49%) previously have worked as a chaplain or religious services
coordinator in some other institutional setting, such as the military or a hospital.
And about four-in-ten (43%) of the prison chaplains currently hold a second
position as a minister, pastor, rabbi or imam in a house of worship outside the
chaplains report working an average of 32 to 40 hours (39%) or more than 40
hours (45%) per week for the state prisons. Only about one-in-six work a part-time
schedule of 31 hours or less (15%).
chaplains surveyed are Protestant, with the lion’s share coming from an
evangelical Protestant tradition. About seven-in-ten (71%) chaplains identify
as Protestants, 13% are Catholics, 7% Muslims and the remainder identify with other
religions, including Judaism and Native American spirituality. A plurality of the
chaplains (44%) consider their faith to be part of the evangelical Protestant
tradition while 15% come from a mainline Protestant tradition and 7% are from a
historically black Protestant tradition.
(60%) chaplains believe their religion should preserve traditional religious beliefs
and practices. Just 2% say their religion should adopt modern beliefs and
practices, while three-in-ten (30%) take the middle ground, saying their
religion should make some adjustments in light of modern beliefs and practices.
chaplains are more likely than those of other Protestant traditions or faiths
to believe in preserving traditional beliefs and practices; 71% of evangelical Protestant
chaplains believe religious tradition should be preserved, and 26% take a
middle-ground position on religious tradition. Mainline Protestant chaplains,
by comparison, are more evenly divided between those who think that traditional
beliefs and practices should be preserved (45%) and those who favor some adjustments
majority of chaplains report holding conservative views on both social and political
issues. Overall, 53% of chaplains describe their views on social issues as
conservative or very conservative, 28% are moderate and 16% are liberal.
Similarly, when it comes to political issues, 55% say their views are conservative
or very conservative, 29% moderate and 13% liberal.
Education and Training
expected, the prison chaplains surveyed are a well-educated group. About
six-in-ten (62%) hold either a master’s degree or a doctorate, 21% hold a
bachelor’s degree and 15% did not complete a four-year college degree. Nearly
all of those with a graduate degree (90%) specialized in a religion or
ministry-related field. Overall, 56% of the chaplains surveyed completed
graduate studies in a religion or ministry-related field.
A majority of chaplains surveyed also report having
at least some clinical pastoral training, which can take place inside or outside
of a degree program.17
About three-in-ten (29%) have completed four or more units of training, 32% have
completed 1-3 units and 36% have had no clinical pastoral training. Those with
more formal education are more likely to have had clinical training. Among
those with a graduate degree, two-thirds (67%) have completed at least one
clinical pastoral training unit. Among those with a college degree, 55% have
completed at least one unit, and among those with less education, 51% have done
15 The state and federal prison population is predominately male (93%), according
to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. See Appendix C: The State and Federal Correctional
System. (return to text)
16 Inmates who pose the greatest threat to public safety typically reside in
maximum-security prisons, which have the highest staff-to-inmate ratios, the
closest monitoring of inmates and physical features such as reinforced fences,
walls and armed watch towers. By contrast, inmates at minimum-security prisons
generally pose the least risk to public safety, and these facilities typically have
only single-perimeter fences and no roving patrols or armed watch towers.
Medium-security prisons fall in the middle. (return to text)
17 Clinical pastoral training prepares chaplains to provide counseling and help
people through crisis situations, end-of-life issues, grief, difficult family
dynamics, mental health problems and so on. A unit of pastoral training is
usually 400 hours of supervised work. (return to text)
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