Religious Programs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons
By Christopher Zoukis
Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons have access to a number of religious programs at their local prison facility. While religious service offerings depend on locality and security level, all federal prisoners in general population status can expect to have access to a Religious Services Department where they can explore and strengthen their spirituality. Those in more restrictive settings (e.g., control units, Special Housing Units, administrative housing, etc.) enjoy less access to religious programming.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, “Institutions schedule religious services and meeting times for inmates of many faiths. Religious programs are led or supervised by staff chaplains, contract spiritual leaders, and community volunteers. Chaplains oversee inmate self-improvement forums such as scripture study and religious workshops, and provide pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and counseling.” All such activities are facilitated in a federal prison’s Religious Services Department.
In a typical federal prison, the Religious Services Department offers a number of religious programs each week. All major religions are represented in such services. For example, at FCI Petersburg, Buddhist, Jewish, Rastafarian, and Wiccan faith groups all have one service a week and one study a week. This amounts to around 3 hours of worship and study time, respectively. Other groups, for example, the Christians at FCI Petersburg, have several additional services due to a Christian rock band’s practice slot, the Christian choir’s practice slot, and additional time afforded for impromptu worship sessions. While it can be hard for “lesser” religions to gain a foothold in a federal prison’s chapel (e.g., the Buddhists, Wiccans, Hare Krishnas, and Santerias at FCI Petersburg have had some problems with this), with agitation, some of the extra Christian worship, fellowship, and hang-out slots can be afforded to groups which have minimal worship slots attributed to their group.