Prison chaplaincy is quite different from hospital chaplaincy. While there are similar components of pastoral care in both areas of ministry, prison chaplaincy has more limitations; for example, restrictions of visiting hours or lock-downs where the prisoners are confined to their cells.
The working environment of chaplaincy within the prison system is, of necessity, ecumenical.
The various means by which chaplains first meet the inmates within the prison system can be at the request of:
- The prisoner himself or herself
- A prison officer
- A family member
- Another inmate who may suggest that the chaplain meet a certain prisoner
As with hospital chaplaincy, listening and being with each individual is important. Prison chaplains are mindful that the conversations with each prisoner are confidential, and are not shared with any one else. The agenda is always set by the prisoner, and over time, because of the depth and breadth of emotions shared by the inmate, rapport is established.
Advocacy is another area of prison chaplaincy that is significant. The chaplain can advocate for prisoners when they are unable to make claims for themselves for various reasons.
The Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist are important in prison chaplaincy. The chaplains provide crosses and bibles when prisoners ask for them. These symbols of our faith and the sacraments are a real source of consolation and strength to the prisoners.