Cutbacks to Prison Chaplaincy

Ted Hsu
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The federal government has decided to eliminate all 49 part-time contracts for federal prison chaplains. This will not only reduce the number of chaplains, but will also have the effect of eliminating most non-Christian chaplains (79 of the remaining 80 full time chaplains are Christian).

The decision is prejudicial to persons from minority communities and faiths and shows disrespect for the Constitutional rights of minority persons who happen to be in prison. As bad, however, as the Constitutional and Charter issues, is the government’s attitude toward the role of chaplaincy – and religious and spiritual healing – in successful pro-social community reintegration.

I believe in rehabilitation and redemption. This Conservative government does not.

The long experience of correctional experts in Canada and elsewhere is that Chaplaincy is an important component of the reintegrative process because it bridges the transition from prison to community. Meeting the religious and spiritual needs of offenders contributes to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.

This government is caught in a contradiction: upholding and defending religious freedoms abroad while downplaying their importance at home. It is cutting funds where more funding for programs is needed while, at the same time, growing the rate of incarceration. The government is demonstrating through its decisions that its commitment to reintegration is secondary to its commitment to punishment.

The government claims this is a money-saving decision, but it clearly has discriminatory human rights consequences for the religious and multicultural makeup of Canada`s incarcerated population.