State prison officials say budget cuts that eliminated more than a third of the system’s chaplains haven’t kept inmates from receiving religious services.
This year’s budget cuts eliminated 25 chaplain positions in minimum- and medium-security facilities across the state. Chaplains were retained at the state’s 14 "close-custody" (high-security) prisons, as well as at the women’s prison and the Polk youth facility.
Critics of the $1.4 million reduction warned it would give prisoners less access to spiritual support and guidance. But Department of Correction liaison Nicole Sullivan told an oversight committee Thursday that hasn’t been the case.
"The services are being rendered at the same level," Sullivan said, thanks in large part to some 2,800 religious volunteers who have helped to fill the gaps.
In some cases, Sullivan said, communities and churches have even stepped up to pay the salary for a chaplain at a prison that would otherwise have been without one. In a few cases, the department has contracted for services with local clergy.
"Religious services are very critical to the department," she told lawmakers. "We have done the best we can do given the situation."
The list of prisons where state-funded chaplains were cut is available here.