Ask The Advocate: Keeping the faith in prison

How many chaplains are working at the state prisons? Are there qualifications? How are they chosen? What are their duties?

Answer from Pam Laborde, spokeswoman with the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections:

There are seven chaplain positions within the department. These individuals are state employees. There are currently 14 individuals the department contracts with to provide chaplain/religious counseling services for seven of the nine adult state correctional facilities. The other two facilities — Allen Correctional Center and Winn Correctional Center — are privately managed and are responsible for providing their own employees, including chaplains.

Louisiana Civil Services has specific work functions and job duties for Clinical Chaplains, level 1-4. Duties include:

Managing the pastoral care program in a correctional facility.

Conducting religious services, performing religious rites, providing pastoral counseling to inmates.

Applying intervention principles in crisis situations.

Planning pastoral care budgets, maintaining records and preparing reports.

Communicating with families and others on an offender’s behalf, including notifying family members of an offender’s death.

Recruiting volunteers to assist with and enhance prison ministry.

It is not a typical Monday through Friday 8-to-5 job. Many religious services and programs take place in the evenings and on weekends.

We also have chaplains’ assistants (sometimes referred to within the department as missionaries) — these are offenders who have completed the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary program at Louisiana State Penitentiary, which confers bachelor’s degrees for those offenders who earn it.

DPS&C chaplains also work with thousands of religious volunteers on an annual basis. Some come to preach, some to sing, others to mentor.

The major religious affiliations among the adult offenders in the state prisons are Catholic, Protestant and Muslim. There are smaller numbers that include, but are not limited to: Jewish, Mormon, Native Indian, Wicca, IDMR (Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research), Jehovah’s Witness and Pentecostal.

I would also like to mention the Louisiana Prison Chapel Foundation, started in the late 1990s with the goal of building a chapel at every state correctional facility. Allen Correctional Center is the only facility that does not have a chapel built by LPCF yet, but they are raising funds for that. To donate, visit lpcf.brickmanngroup.com. The chapels are nondenominational and can be used for any religious gathering.