The Role of Religious Volunteers
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state prisons make extensive use of volunteers from houses of worship or other
religious organizations to help meet the spiritual needs of inmates. A majority
of chaplains say that more volunteers are needed, particularly for inmates who
belong to minority faiths such as Islam, Wicca and Native American spirituality.
About a third of the chaplains surveyed also say that volunteers from some
religious groups are overabundant. In particular, they tend to cite Protestant
groups as providing more volunteers than necessary to meet the religious needs
of inmates. Generally speaking, the prison chaplains give religious volunteers high
marks for the way they lead worship services, education classes and prayer
groups but somewhat lower marks for mentoring inmates and their children.
Supply of Volunteers:
Too Few or Too Many?
chaplains say there are too few religious volunteers to meet the needs of all inmates. About seven-in-ten prison chaplains surveyed (69%)
say there are some religious groups for which there are too few volunteers in
the prisons where they work.
those expressing this view, 55% say that more Muslim volunteers are needed. (This
figure includes 7% specifically mentioning the Moorish Science Temple of
America and 6% mentioning the Nation of Islam.) Other commonly named groups for
which more volunteers are needed include pagan or earth-based religions, such
as Wicca, Odinism, Asatru and Druidism (35%), and Native American spirituality
(32%). (Note that percentages do not add
to 100% because multiple responses were allowed. See Glossary for brief
definitions of some smaller religious groups.)
the same time, about a third of prison chaplains (32%) say some religious
groups provide more volunteers than necessary to meet the religious needs of
inmates. Among the chaplains who say this, Protestants are the most commonly
named group (net of 52%); an additional 26% mentioned “Christians” with no
further specification. A total of 7% mentioned Catholics. No other religion was named by more than 10% of the chaplains responding.
How are Religious
The Pew Forum survey asked chaplains to rate the
performance of religious volunteers at six specific tasks. Respondents also had
the option of saying that volunteers did not perform some of those tasks in the
prisons where they work. For example, two-thirds of the chaplains (68%) report
that religious volunteers do not mentor the children of inmates, and about half
(46%) say that volunteers do not provide food, clothing or holiday gifts for
the families of inmates.
the chaplains who express an opinion on the performance of volunteers, most favorably assess how volunteers lead
worship services or other religious rituals; 42% rate volunteers as excellent leaders
of worship services, 50% say volunteers do a good job at this and only 7% rate
volunteers as fair or poor at leading worship services. A majority of those
with an opinion also say that religious volunteers do an excellent job (35%) or
a good job (50%) leading religious education classes. A similar proportion say
volunteers are excellent (33%) or good (52%) at running prayer or meditation
Volunteers receive more mixed reviews for their
efforts at mentoring inmates. Of the chaplains offering an opinion, two-thirds
say volunteers make excellent (23%) or good (43%) mentors for inmates, but a
third rate them as only fair (26%) or poor (8%). In recent years, federal and
state authorities also have encouraged mentoring programs for the children of
inmates. But, as previously noted, many chaplains say that in the prisons where
they work, religious volunteers are not involved in mentoring inmates’
children. And of the chaplains who offer an opinion, only about a third say
that religious volunteers do an excellent job (11%) or a good job (21%) of
mentoring inmates’ children, while about two-thirds say they do either a fair
(38%) or poor job (30%).
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