The transformation of prison chaplaincy

Canada’s federal prison chaplain system is going through dramatic change as it adopts a private contractor model to provide services across the country. In the midst of this reorganization, Anglicans are helping to make sure the spiritual needs of prisoners are met.

The main entrance of Kingston Penitentiary, Kingston, Ont. PHOTO: SEAN_MARSHALL ON FLICKR
The main entrance of Kingston Penitentiary, Kingston, Ont. PHOTO: SEAN_MARSHALL ON FLICKR

“It’s a significant political and religious issue for our times,” says Archdeacon Wayne Varley, diocesan executive officer for the Diocese of Ontario.

Varley and the Rev. Dale Gillman of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle are the two Anglicans on the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy (IFC)—an advisory body that represents the interests of the nation’s faith communities to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).

In April 2013, the federal government announced it would contract out all chaplaincy services to a single private company. Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc. won the one-year contract and began providing chaplaincy services in October 2013.

Right now, Kairos Pneuma employs only 22 per cent of all federal prison chaplains. Others work under contracts between Canada’s different faith communities and the federal government. As those contracts expire, the positions will come under the responsibility of Kairos Pneuma.

The company is also responsible for the recruitment and hiring of chaplains, but Canada’s religious groups will certify that potential chaplains are suitable for ministry.

Before the shift to private contractor, the work of the IFC was “more hands-on,” says Gillman. IFC members would participate directly in the hiring and evaluation of chaplains. “I really enjoyed being part of that process.”

“Our part may be less now than it has been,” says Varley, “but nonetheless, we have to ensure that we are providing qualified individuals rooted and connected in the Anglican church. The interfaith committee will continue to provide advice to the CSC in order to meet the religious and spiritual needs of offenders, and will have a part to play in the delivery of service and the contractor itself.”

Under the new memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the IFC and the CSC-agreed upon at the IFC’s meeting early in November—the IFC’s role as an advisory body has been clarified, and part of that new role is to evaluate the work of Kairos Pneuma.

One positive development of the new MoU, according to Gillman, is the clarification of the relationship between the correctional service and the IFC, and the increased communication that will result.

“The MoU has to be so specific because our work has changed dramatically. In my opinion, we’ve taken a 180-degree turn. Meeting with the commissioner on a more regular basis is something we’ve never had before, and the fact that he wants to do this gives us a sense of…encouragement certainly, but it’s more than that. This present commissioner is very willing to work with us. He’s engaged with us and interested in the work that we’re doing,” Gillman said

As for the future of this new arrangement, Varley takes a wait-and-see attitude. He hopes that continued communication between the IFC and the correctional service will have a real impact on how the chaplaincy system is run, and will be keeping an eye on how the national contractor model affects prison chaplaincy in the long term.

“I also hope that we, as the Anglican church, continue to raise up qualified folk to serve in the federal institutions—folk who are strongly connected to our faith community,” Varley said.

For Gillman, it is vital that federal prison chaplaincy services continue uninterrupted. “Chaplaincy is extremely important. People who are incarcerated need a spiritual connection that social workers can’t provide. Whether we’re Hindu, or Jewish, or Presbyterian, the chaplains represent that spiritual connection for the inmates. You will not find it any place else, and that is of utmost importance.”

Learn more about the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy.

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