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Prison chaplains perform many roles, but their main responsibility is to tend to the spiritual and emotional needs of prison inmates. How chaplains do that varies depending on the prison population and the problems those particular inmates face. Prison chaplains, then, must be flexible and ready to help inmates with a wide range of issues.
Many inmates rely on prison chaplains to discuss spiritual matters with them. They may have questions about how to reconcile their crimes with their spiritual beliefs. Prisoners may wonder how to seek forgiveness for their transgressions. Some inmates may turn to religion for the first time as a way to find the emotional strength to survive their prison terms.
A prison chaplain must help inmates tackle their spiritual concerns by listening, giving advice and showing that he empathizes with members of the prison population.
Inmates may turn to the prison chaplain not to discuss matters of spirituality, but to wrestle with other dilemmas. Prisoners may be struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. They may have suffered physical or sexual abuse as children. They may have difficulty controlling their anger. Prison chaplains must be available to offer counseling on all of these issues.
Religious Program Management
Prison chaplains make sure all prison inmates have an opportunity to practice their religions. Chaplains work with prison staff so that inmates have time for daily prayer, if that is part of their faith, and can attend prison religious services. This requires prison chaplains to have knowledge of a wide variety of religions and their practices.
Prison chaplains work with outside groups to find volunteers who can provide religious services and activities inside the prison for inmates of various faiths. Volunteers can ensure that all inmates are able to observe their religious practices even if the chaplain is not a representative of their particular denomination.