We usually don’t think of volunteering in a prison context, but volunteers are often used in state prisons to meet the religious and spiritual needs of prisoners. Religious volunteers supplement the work of prison chaplains, leading worship services, providing religious education classes, running prayer or meditation groups, and more.
Do you know any religious volunteers who serve the prison population?
To learn about the role of religious volunteers, the Pew Research Center surveyed prison chaplains in all 50 states. These chaplains reported that they have too few—and too many—religious volunteers. They have more Protestant religious volunteers than they need, and too few Muslim, Wiccan, and Native American religious volunteers.
How well do religious volunteers perform? Overall, almost all prison chaplains say that volunteers are excellent or very good at leading worship services or religious rites, at leading religious education classes, at leading prayer or meditation groups, and mentoring prison inmates.
Volunteers don’t do as good a job at providing services to the families and children of prison inmates. This is especially true when it comes to mentoring the children of inmates. They do a somewhat better job when it comes to helping inmates’ families by giving food, clothing, or holiday gifts.
There are no official records of the religious affiliations of the incarcerated population, so the prison chaplains were asked to describe the religious composition of their prison populations. Pew researchers note that these estimates are impressionistic at best, but it is interesting to note that the religiously or spiritually unaffiliated appear to be less frequent among prisoners than the general population.
Did you know that religious volunteers regularly supplement the work of prison chaplains?
Are you, or someone you know, a religious volunteer who works in prisons?
If so, what has the experience been like?