Overwhelmingly, state prison chaplains consider religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. Virtually all chaplains - 96 percent - say they consider access to religion-related programs in prison to be absolutely critical or very important to successful rehabilitation of inmates, according to a survey of prison chaplains in all 50 states by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.
And 78 percent say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates' successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society.
The 730 chaplains who responded to the survey are predominately Christian (85 percent, including a 44 percent plurality who are evangelical Protestants) and highly educated (62 percent with graduate degrees). They describe themselves as conservative on both social issues (53 percent) and political issues (55 percent).
Two-thirds of chaplains say that "personally leading worship services, religious instruction sessions or spiritual counseling sessions" is among the top three activities on which they spend the most time.
Chaplains aren't upbeat about efforts to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for re-entry into the community. Only 8 percent say the system where they work is doing an excellent job of preparing inmates for reintegration into the community, while a majority (54 percent) believe the system is doing only a fair or poor job of readying inmates to return to the wider society.
While volunteers who mentor and disciple inmates are needed, volunteers who would mentor, disciple and guide released inmates are crucial, according to Manuel Cordero, correctional ministries representative for Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries.
"Without the involvement of the local church under the direction of the chaplains, inmate re-entry into society is destined to fail," Cordero said. "When church people get involved with returning inmates they do not only reach the inmates, but also their families. By reaching the children they make it possible to break the cycle of incarceration."
On average, the chaplains surveyed say that Christians as a whole make up about two-thirds of the inmate population in the facilities where they work. Protestants are seen, on average, as comprising 51 percent of the inmate population, Catholics 15 percent, and other Christian groups less than 2 percent.
Overall, there are 1,474 professional chaplains working in state prisons, 60 of whom are ordained by the Assemblies of God. Overall, the AG has 131 correctional chaplains. For more information about AG Chaplaincy, see its website.
Author: Pentecostal Evangel