Faced with mounting costs and tighter budgets, administrators of prisons across America are cutting back on chaplains.

“At many prisons, when things get tight, chaplains are the first thing to go,” said Bryn Carlson, vice-president of the American Correctional Chaplains Association (ACCA).

“We’re in a code-yellow situation, and it’s going into the red zone.”

Carlson knows what he is talking about. In his home of Georgia, the state let go all its chaplains, then rehired most of them on a contract basis, which means chaplains now work without the job security or benefits of full-time employment.

But Georgia is not the only state where chaplains are being cut. Consider:

• In 1991, the Dallas County (Tex.) jails cut all chaplain positions. Now the county’s 6,000 prisoners have no full-time paid chaplains, says Barbara Hart Siekman, who served at the Dallas jails as a chaplain for 19 years and is the immediate past-president of the ACCA, which has 450 member chaplains.

• In Colorado, two full-time equivalent-contract chaplains were let go, leaving 13 chaplains to serve the state’s 7,500 prisoners.

• And in California and New York, there have been big cuts in the number of chaplains serving juvenile offenders—a group of prisoners very likely to benefit from the potentially life-changing work chaplains do.

Charles Grimm is regional director of the New York State Division for Youth, which is responsible for about 2,000 New York youths 16 years old and younger who have gotten into serious legal, criminal, or other trouble.

Grimm, a United Methodist chaplain, served as a chaplain from 1971 to 1991, when he was laid off along with all of the state’s other youth chaplains. The layoff was designed to save money and get volunteers involved.

Grimm ...

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