Earlier today, a prison consulting client asked me about religious services in federal prison. We had a lenghty discussion on the topic. Following our discussion of religious services in federal prison, I decided to write up a short summary. I hope it helps you.

Religious services in federal prison help many people cope with the challenges of confinement. To support religious programs, the Bureau of Prisons employs more than 200 chaplains. Besides the chaplains, approximately 10,000 volunteers and contractors support the religious programs. Ample opportunities exist for people in prison to worship and practice their religious faith.

Like all BOP employees, the chaplain “is a correctional officer first.”

I encourage all federal prisoners to keep this fact in mind during worshipping practices, because it’s not unusual for chaplains or rabbis to write disciplinary infractions. People should not expect confidentiality when talking with any staff member, or for that matter, with anyone else in prison.

Chaplains may be of any religious group, and it’s not unusual for a them to interact with people of different faiths. Christian chaplains, Jewish rabbis, and Islamic imams may lead worshipping services for any group.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to practice their religious beliefs. Prisons have limits, however. The BOP does not condone all worship practices. Some Native American religions, for example, worship using the “peace pipe” and peyote in their services.

To be consistent with its commitment to policy, the BOP identified 31 different religious groups that it has authorized.

Individuals who want to come together and worship must identify their religion as belonging to one of those groups the BOP recognizes. Regardless of group, all people in the prison can use the multi-faith chapel.

Justin Paperny

Religious Services in Federal Prison
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