Criminal Justice Chaplaincies

Criminal justice chaplaincy incorporates police, court and prison chaplaincy services.

Police Chaplaincy:
Police Chaplain
Police chaplaincy began formally in the U.K. in 1851, and Anglican priests have always been heavily involved. According to one Anglican website, police chaplains provide services including:

  • Responding to critical and traumatic events and other emergencies such as bushfires
  • Counselling regarding personal and moral problems relating to work, marriage, relationships and family
  • Offering prayers at various ceremonies and events for police events as well as for officers and their families
  • Making house calls and hospital calls in cases of illness and injury to police officers
  • Officiating at police funerals and assisting families at the time of bereavement
  • Leading classes and seminars for police personnel in areas such as stress management, ethical issues and for new recruits in training

In Victoria as in New South Wales, there are more than 100 police chaplains. Victorian police chaplaincy is led by Rev. John Broughton. He links into the Victoria Police Multifaith Council but the two bodies operate independently of each other.

Chaplains are both male and female, ordained or lay, and were very well-educated and passionate about policing. Amongst police chaplains there is a strong sense of solidarity as they operate in an ever changing environment. Their main challenges are in representing the sense and importance of the spiritual to police, managing their time, uncovering best practice and how to operate during critical incidents. Training for the role can be minimal, and any training often does not meet specific Police Chaplaincy needs. More research is needed, as is advanced training.

Court and Prison Chaplaincy:
Scales of Justice in the courts
Court and prison chaplaincy has a special character and a long history. The 2015 Australian prison census conducted annually by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed there were 38,845 prisoners, an increase of six per cent over the previous year. It represents a national imprisonment rate of 208 per 100,000 adults. In November 2016 in Victoria, there were 6,821 adult prisoners (6,359 males, 462 females), a rise of 7.2 per cent over the previous year – of these 563 (8.3%) were ATSI prisoners while 807 (11.8%) were under 25. And 2,095 (30.7%) were unsentenced prisoners. One Australian study has explored spirituality in prisons (Gill 2006).

The Salvation Army under its state coordinator for chaplaincy has always played a special role in court and prison chaplaincy. In Victoria it has six chaplaincy contact points for courts and justice centres and has a chaplain attached to most courts (Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Frankston, Heidelberg, Melbourne, Ringwood and Sunshine) and to Magistrate Courts in Ballarat, Bendigo, Echuca, Geelong, Moe, Morwell, Mildura, Shepparton, Warrnambool and Wodonga. Regarding court chaplaincy, it explains its work in terms of ‘listening to the client’s concerns, explaining the court process and providing support and referral’.

Prison imageWorking with the chaplains is a court network of volunteers who undergo a rigorous screening process, then a 13 day comprehensive training program followed by 12 weeks of mentoring by an experienced networker. As well as the Salvation Army chaplains, there are other prison chaplains from the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Uniting Church and the Islamic Council of Victoria who visit each prison on a regular basis. Buddhist, Greek Orthodox and Jewish chaplains visit each prison as required. The Greek Orthodox Church, which has not historically been over-committed to chaplaincy generally, has three part-time corrective services chaplains.

Corrections Victoria in arrangement with Fulham and Port Phillip private prisons contract faith-based organisations to provide chaplaincy services with coordination provided by a Regional Liaison Chaplain (Department of Justice 2014 at Every prisoner has a right both to a chaplain and to speak freely to the chaplain. Chaplains can walk freely around a prison, including into solitary confinement.

Volunteer Visitors in Prisons:
St Vincent de Paul society logo
The St Vincent de Paul Society provide a lay-volunteer dimension of Catholic prison ministry led by its director, Sister Mary O’Shannessy. The St. Vincent de Paul Society is very supportive of prisoners, both new and long-term. The ministry is composed of 22 visiting priests, 20 chaplains and 60 volunteers (Webber 2015). The philosophy is to “walk with prisoners on their journey’ in a non-judgemental and respectful way. Webber found that prisoners are appreciative of the efforts of the prison ministry. As one prisoner expressed it, “They helped us accept our fate as well, to be accepting of where we’ve found ourselves and not being judgemental as to why” (Webber 2015: 15). Generally they make prison life more bearable and help prisoners deal with their vulnerabilities. Female prisoners are especially appreciative.