Working in the 'in-between spaces':
The role of contemporary prison chaplains in
New South Wales
A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
Bachelor of Liberal Studies with Honours
Department of Sociology and Social Policy
The University of Sydney, 2010
I would like to take this chance to dedicate this thesis to my father, Prof. J. P. Leung. Your
love for the social sciences taught me to be curious about the world around me, and it is from
your fighting spirit that I forever draw inspiration.
I would also like to extend my deepest thanks towards the Civil Chaplaincies Advisory
Committee of New South Wales – coordinator Rod Moore, and the fifteen prison chaplains
whose hearts of service has humbled, moved, and inspired me. Thank you all for your time,
and for sharing your amazing experiences of unyielding hope.
Dr. Laura Beth Bugg, for your dedicated supervision, and unwavering patience throughout the
year. Your infectious optimism and advice has simply been indispensible as I pursued „what
melts my butter.‟ The honour is mine, to have you be part of this project.
My dearest mum, for your words of comfort and encouragement in my darkest hours. I would
be lost without your unconditional love and support in all that I do.
Owen, my partner in crime, who knows me better than I know myself. Your undying support
and devotion knows no bounds – and for that I am eternally grateful.
Christine Campbell, you have been a kindred spirit, and such a blessing. Thank you for your
encouragement, awesome hugs, and insightful advice over coffee.
Jane and Hardy, both of whom have endured my late-night calls, and whose sage advice has
carried me through the final leg.
Maven Cell, Davina, Jono and countless other friends – thanks for the prayers, the laughter
and the good times. I would not have retained my sanity were it not for all your encouraging
texts, emails and calls throughout the week.
And finally, God – You „called‟ me to this journey with the promise that You would see me
through. You had faith in me when I had none. You have done this, and more.
The positive social benefits of religious interventions are increasingly acknowledged within
inmate rehabilitation literature, yet the crucial role of prison chaplains remains under-
recognised and under-researched in Australia. This study explores the role of prison
chaplaincy within Corrective Services New South Wales, focusing on the occupational
socialisation of chaplains, and their understanding and negotiation of potentially conflicting
roles when framed by their religious beliefs and attitudes toward rehabilitation.
Semi-structured interviews with 15 prison chaplains were conducted within metropolitan
Sydney. Aligning with existing research, nearly all chaplains are strongly in favour of
rehabilitation. However, the expression and rationalisation behind their positions were
complex and varied. The Christian-centric oversight of previous research is evident within
Australia‟s increasingly multi-faith society, illuminating the importance of further research
into chaplains of less-represented faiths. These findings serve as a re-evaluation of the current
„brokerage‟ model of chaplaincy, which has important implications for the equal access of
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements .................................................................................................................... 2
Abstract ....................................................................................................................................... 3
Abbreviations ............................................................................................................................. 5
Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 6
Part 1. Prison chaplaincy: a historical and contextual review .................................................. 11
1.1 Prison chaplaincy in New South Wales .......................................................................... 23
Part 2. Data and Methods ......................................................................................................... 30
Part 3. Becoming a prison chaplain .......................................................................................... 36
Part 4. How NSW prison chaplains understand their role ........................................................ 44
4.1 An occupational role challenge: Prison staff and administration ................................... 45
4.2 Inmates ............................................................................................................................ 52
4.3 Multi-faith chaplaincy..................................................................................................... 75
Part 5. Discussion and Conclusions.......................................................................................... 86
References ................................................................................................................................ 96
Appendix A: Sample recruitment e-mail ................................................................................ 107
Appendix B: Interview Protocol – Semi-structured ............................................................... 108
ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics
CCAC Civil Chaplaincies Advisory Committee
CO(s) Correctional Officer(s)
CPE Clinical Pastoral Education
CSNSW Corrective Services New South Wales
FBO(s) Faith-based organisation(s)
HCAC Hospital Chaplaincy Advisory Committee
KPMA Kairos Prison Ministry Australia
MOU Memorandum of Understanding
(NSW) DCS (New South Wales) Department of Corrective Services
PFA Prison Fellowship Australia
PSC Prison Service Chaplaincy
SCHC Standing Committee on Hospital Chaplaincies
Nearly fifty years ago, Daniel Glaser‟s study The Effectiveness of a Prison and Parole System,
reported that one sixth of inmates who attributed their post-release success to prison staff
credited the prison chaplain, making chaplains the second most frequently mentioned staff
member acknowledged with effecting rehabilitation (Glaser, 1964). Yet despite the chaplains‟
importance, scholarship exploring the connection between religion and offender rehabilitation
has only recently acknowledged the prison chaplain as offering a unique contribution to the
“remotivation” and “substitution of pro-social for anti-social attitudes” of inmates (Keuther,
1951; Powers, 1960: 197).
The etymology of the term „chaplain‟, though unclear, is understood to stem from a religious
motivation to care for those in need. In the fourth century, St. Martin of Tours shared his cloak
(„capella‟) with a beggar, which eventually became a religious relic guarded in battle by
„capellani’ or military „chaplains‟ (Beckford & Gillat, 1998: 25-6). However, apart from
being the sole providers of spiritual care within most correctional systems, the contemporary
prison chaplain is also expected to shoulder potentially conflicting secular, rehabilitative, and
custodial roles (Sundt, 1998). Thus, prison chaplains‟ capacity to simultaneously “guard and
help, protect and rehabilitate, maintain custody, and deliver treatment” has since been
questioned (Rothman, 1980: 10). Since the 1970s, increasing unease over prisons as
dehumanising and psychologically damaging places has seen a proliferation of prison research
conducted on Correctional Officers‟ (COs), with concerns that the debilitating prison
environment may encourage a process of prisonisation not just in prisoners, but affect prison
staff as they increasingly identify with a custodial role (Haney et al., 1973). Thus, research
focused on COs‟ rehabilitative and punitive attitudes towards inmates (Jacobs & Retsky,
1975; Hepburn & Albonetti, 1980; Poole & Regoli, 1980; Cullen et al., 1989), with
subsequent research also examining attitudes of correctional administration (Colvin, 1992;
DiIulio, 1987), prison wardens (Cullen et al., 1993a; Cullen et al., 1993b; Johnson et al., 1997)
and even treatment and medical staff (Hepburn and Albonetti, 1980). However, the “obscure
office” (DeBaumont & de Tocqueville, 1833/1964) of prison chaplaincy has remained as
such, leading a “near-invisible existence” in literature (Sundt, 1997: 2). This gap in literature
is what I hope to address, especially within the Australian context where virtually no research
on the role of prison chaplains within the rehabilitative system exists.
Prison chaplains are little known amongst the public due to the location and nature of their
work. The peak-body of chaplaincy in NSW, the Civil Chaplaincies Advisory Committee,
itself notes that the relevance of chaplaincy is “not readily apparent to those who are not
immediately in receipt of such ministries” (CCAC, 1999). In his personal account of prison
chaplaincy, Shaw (1995: 25) has been deemed “irrelevant” and a “dewy-eyed” idealist by
cynics. Prison chaplaincy has also been marginalised by the social stigma of working in
prisons, reputed as “the dumping ground of the clerical world” (Taft, 1978: 54). Even within
public policy where their efforts are recognised, prison chaplains may be devalued because
“they exercise their ministry in a way which is not measureable and by its very nature has
often to remain unseen” (CCAC, 1999). This is unsurprising as most studies concerning the
effectiveness of faith-based interventions measure specific outcomes – usually recidivism
rates and number of prison infractions (Fischer, 2003). It has been argued however, that
measuring intervention effectiveness is not as straightforward, especially those offered by
non-profit organisations that exist specifically to provide services that cannot be readily or
economically measured (Wuthnow et al., 2004).
Scholarship on prison chaplaincy has arguably only developed over the past 10 years, as
researchers in the US have only recently begun to describe contemporary chaplains‟ roles and
examine their custodial-punitive and rehabilitative orientations – a source of major theoretical
debate. This is because chaplains‟ complex responsibilities for custodial and rehabilitative
roles have been hypothesised to be a source of so-called “role problems” (Sundt & Cullen,
1998; 2002; Hicks, 2008). Role problems are a significant variable because they have been
consistently linked to an increased custodial-punitive orientation amongst COs (Hepburn &
Albonetti, 1980; Poole & Regoli, 1980; Cullen et al., 1989; Whitehead & Lindquist, 1989).
Numerous studies maintain that although chaplains remain highly supportive of rehabilitation,
they also “hold complex views about the purpose of prisons,” thus justifying the need for
additional qualitative research to be conducted (Sundt & Cullen, 2002: 381). More recently,
chaplains‟ role problems have also been addressed through exploring chaplains‟ perceptions
of their work (Sundt & Cullen, 2007), and the strategies chaplains adopt to diffuse role
problems during the occupational socialisation process (Hicks, 2008).
To my knowledge, this thesis will be the first systematic research conducted in New South
Wales on prison chaplaincy. The primary research question I pose is, „What is the role of
prison chaplains in NSW corrections‟? To begin to address the theoretical debate of chaplains‟
support for custody and rehabilitation however, I will need to go beyond a mere descriptive
account of chaplains‟ duties to the reasons and justifications they attribute to their work. Thus
my research agenda will take a three-pronged approach. First, I ask how chaplains understand
their role, the reasons why they have pursued prison chaplaincy, and the duties they consider
most significant. Second, I examine how the physical and power structures within the prison
setting both shape chaplains‟ approach to prison work, and how these may be negotiated.
Finally, I interrogate the ways in which personal beliefs and values (including religious ones)
intersect with the approach they take toward inmate rehabilitation.
To answer my research questions, in-depth interviews were conducted with fifteen prison
chaplains within the metropolitan Sydney area. Framed by a series of fifteen semi-structured,
open-ended questions, the interview was designed to extract “thick descriptions” (Denzin,
1989) and narratives using a „life story‟ approach (Atkinson, 2002). Official documents
outlining policy discourses from the CCAC were also used to contextualise the interviews.
The resulting transcripts and documents were then subjected to a thematic, narrative and
Foucauldian discourse analysis.
I found that like their US counterparts, chaplains in NSW are capable of supporting both
custody and inmate rehabilitation (Sundt & Cullen, 2002), but more importantly these view
are not expressed uniformly, nor were the justifications behind them undifferentiated. Role
problems did exist for chaplains in my sample, but these did not contribute to a more punitive
attitude in chaplains. Instead, chaplains achieved role harmony through creative mitigating
efforts. The most significant finding, however, was that irrespective of occupational setting,
personal beliefs, or work experiences, the occupational consensus among prison chaplains is
one of inmate rehabilitation.
This thesis is divided into three main sections, each addressing one of the three main
relationships that form the chaplains‟ role set – the Correctional Officers (COs) and prison
administration, inmates, and „other faith‟ inmates and chaplains. Following the review of the
(mostly US-based) existing literature on prison chaplaincy and a description of the
methodology, the first section examines the occupational socialisation of chaplains, including
their paths into prison work, and the main occupational challenges and resulting role problems
chaplains first faced upon employment. The role of the prison chaplain in relation to inmates
is explored in the second section, where I identify the most significant duties of prison
chaplains, and the ways in which these contribute to an overarching objective of inmate
rehabilitation. Finally, the third section investigates how chaplains negotiate the religious
differences made salient by the prison environment. Results reveal an underlying, all-
encompassing Christian narrative of NSW chaplaincy, which in turn serves as an evaluation
for the current „brokerage model‟ of chaplaincy.
Part 1. Prison chaplaincy: a historical and contextual review
Prison scholarship began with an interest in the inmates‟ perspective of the prison experience
(Clemmer, 1940; Sykes, 1958). However by the 1970s, increasing concern over prisons as
dehumanising, harmful places shifted the research focus to prison‟s effect on those who work
within its walls, in particular their experiences of stress (Lambert et al., 2009), cynicism
(Ulmer, 1992) and burn out (Schaufeli & Peeters, 2000). Since then, extensive research
conducted on Correctional Officers (COs) has produced a complex picture of prison work. It
is from this substantial literature on COs that this thesis draws, as researchers have only just
begun to explore the duties that contemporary prison chaplains undertake, chaplains‟
correctional ideology, and their perceptions of their work (Sundt & Cullen, 1998; 2002; 2007).
Other research has explored the process of occupational socialisation of chaplains into prison
work (Hicks, 2008), and of particular interest to this thesis, chaplains‟ role in inmate
rehabilitation (Sundt et al., 2002). Due to a complete absence of related literature in the
Australian context, these studies will form the theoretical framework to contextualise findings
on prison chaplaincy in New South Wales.
Religious roots of the penitentiary
Characterised by isolation, discipline and religious penitence (Shaw, 1995; Sundt, 1997), the
first penal systems in the United States must be understood within its historic roots in religion.
Indeed, the term „penitentiary‟ was derived from the 17th century Puritan ethics of „penitence‟
(meaning “regret for wrongdoing or sinning”) and therefore, based upon a religious model of
the forgiveness of sins (Teeters and Barnes, 1959: 329). However, by the mid-1800s, the
American penal system had undergone a reformatory era, focusing instead on efforts to
„reform‟ the individual through rehabilitative programs (Rothman, 1971). Similarly, prison
reforms in England during the late 1700s saw them built with better hygiene, stricter
discipline, and harder labour – not only to deter criminality, but also to rehabilitate prisoners
(Ignatieff, 1978). The English penitentiary system further justified incarceration by heralding
“the religious discourse of the chaplain,” citing the benefits of solitude, obedience, and
religious exhortation (Ignatieff, 1981: 162). „Corrective‟ efforts thus increasingly moved away
from the corporeal body to the „soul‟ of the offender, which was “supervise[d], train[ed] and
correct[ed],” in attempts to transform their very nature (Foucault, 1977: 30). This was also
true of American prisons, where chaplains also engaged in this policy shift, holding pervasive
roles as decision makers for many daily operations (Skotnicki, 1991). As one of the first to
recognise the link between low levels of education and criminal lifestyles, chaplains initiated
the earliest prison libraries and Sabbath schools where inmates were taught to read the Bible
(Sundt, 1997). Prison chaplains were also known to advocate against the maltreatment of
inmates and pioneered the first post-release reintegration programs (Skotnicki, 1991).
However, the authority of the chaplain was challenged by the rise of rationalism and the social
sciences during the 19th century, which saw an influx of social workers, psychologists and
educators that reframed religious reform in the West to become a “social reality” (Shaw, 1995:
32). In response, chaplains adopted the persona of „soul doctors‟ and „moral physicians‟ to
justify their role and the value of prison chaplaincy, arguing that they were equally qualified
to “advance central correctional goals” in prisons as other secular professionals (Giesen, 1936;
Sundt & Cullen, 1998: 274). Chaplains aligned themselves with scientific Positivism, evident
in their willingness to converse with inmates about possible environmental, and even
hereditary factors leading to their criminal behaviour (Skotnicki, 2000). Skotnicki (2000)
controversially posits that by embracing religious liberalism, chaplains themselves actually
accelerated the secularisation of the correctional system itself. Sundt and Cullen (1998: 273)
further argues that religion‟s marginalised role in the modern “correctional institution” has
made the chaplain‟s role ambiguous, which is symptomatic of a pervading uncertainty about
the role of religion in contemporary penal institutions.
Rehabilitative and custodial-punitive orientations
Scholars agree that criminal justice systems in the 1900s started with rehabilitative goals as
their dominant paradigm (e.g. Cullen & Gilbert, 1982; Rothman, 1980). Yet towards the end
of the last century, the so-called „punitive turn‟ and „getting tough‟ on crime in the West,
especially within juvenile justice, polarised attitudes on the purpose of incarceration (Roberts
& Indermaur, 2007; Mears, 2001). Critics like Rothman (1980) maintained that the inherent
incompatibility between treatment and custodial objectives were “far more likely to be
resolved on the side of coercion” – that is, the system was likely to default to custodial
objectives out of expedience. Such understandings have led to the conceptualisation of
„rehabilitation‟ and „custody‟ (or „punishment‟) as two opposing orientations within prison
literature, with Cullen et al. (1989) operationalising them on separate scales. While
rehabilitation and punitiveness should be understood as two independent concepts, as previous
findings show, they are not necessarily opposite extremes of the same continuum. This feature
is important in understanding seemly contradictory findings, such as in Sundt and Cullen‟s
(2002) study where the majority of prison chaplains supported incarceration yet maintained
that the belief that inmate rehabilitation was best achieved through religious practice and
Two models of occupational experience
In attempts to disentangle the direction of effect on variables that impact prison staff‟s work
attitudes, two levels of analysis have emerged – individual and organisational. Van Voorhis et
al.‟s (1991) „Importation-Differential Experiences model‟ and „Work Role-Prisonization
model‟ simultaneously explores both levels by assuming bi-directionality in how one‟s own
personal attributes or experiences can inform one‟s work, but at the same time accounts for
how the prison environment can also shape occupational attitudes.
The Importation-Differential Experiences (or „Individual experiences-Importation‟) model
argues that individual variables, namely race, gender, age and education, are „imported‟ onto
their perception of work (Van Voorhis et al., 1991). Conversely, the Work role-Prisonization
model posits that views on prison work are largely determined by the prison environment and
socialisation into one‟s work role (Van Voorhis et al., 1991). Despite the weak explanatory
power of these models (Whitehead & Lindquist, 1989), Sundt and Cullen‟s (1998; 2002;
2007) unprecedented application of both to the analysis of prison chaplains has proven useful
in describing how the chaplain‟s role interacts with the prison setting. More crucially
however, it has exposed the need to broaden the scope of the two models by conducting
qualitative research to better understand how these individual variables actually relate to each
other for the chaplains themselves.
Virtually no support has been found for the Individual experiences-Importation model in
prison chaplaincy research (Sundt & Cullen, 1998; 2002), and as such, will not form part of
my analysis. To date, race has been the only variable consistently found to be a predictor of a
custodial-punitive orientation amongst prison staff, with “Whites [being] less supportive of
rehabilitation” (Sundt & Cullen, 2002: 372). Race however, was not a predictor of custodial-
punitive orientations, further supporting claims that rehabilitation and punitiveness are two
independent variables (Cullen et al., 1989; Jurik, 1985; Van Voorhis et al., 1991). Of obvious
interest when studying prison chaplains however, are findings that religious orientation may
influence attitudes towards punishment. More specifically, those that understand God as
wrathful and punishing of sinners – what Evans and colleagues (1995) call „hell-fire beliefs‟ -
have been hypothesised to hold a more punitive attitude. This is a view prison chaplains in
Sundt and Cullen‟s (2002) study shared, as chaplains who held a „hell-fire‟ religious
orientation were less likely to support rehabilitation. On the other hand, amongst the general
population at least, those in favour of „religious forgiveness‟ – one of the strongest predictors
for rehabilitative ideals – were more likely support rehabilitation (Applegate et al., 2000).
Despite these findings, it is not my purpose for this thesis to determine how religious
affiliation predicts punitive or rehabilitative orientations, as no relationship has been found
between the two within the general population (Applegate et al., 2000). Instead, I will focus
on the discourses and narratives chaplains attribute to their understanding of inmate
punishment and rehabilitation, which may or may not be framed within a religious framework.
Occupational socialisation and role problems
Alternatively, with roots in organisational theory, the Work role-Prisonization model posits
that structural factors such as “occupational socialization, class/status of occupation, and
social relations of work” will overshadow the effects of any individual-level variables prison
staff may have (Feldberg & Glenn, 1979:527). Apart from adopting the “standards, beliefs and
moral concerns” (Fine, 2003: 76) of an occupational culture, the process of occupation
socialisation also involves negotiating the discrepancies between the preconceived
expectations for our work role, and realities of the workplace (Hicks, 2008). As a result,
newcomers to a job learn of “an acceptable range of justifications and explanations to defend
their work related activities” in order to re-adjust and accommodate for these discrepancies
(Shaffir & Pawluch, 2003: 896).
Within role theory, the position an individual occupies in an organisational setting is
determined by a number of „role relationships‟ with others, accumulating into a „role set‟
(Goode, 1960; Merton, 1957). Stryker (1980: 78) gives the example of a teacher‟s role set that
has links to both students, and the school‟s administrators – the teacher “serves as a bridge”
between the two circles that might otherwise be isolated from the other. Similarly, chaplains
are responsible for inmates‟ spiritual welfare, whilst bearing responsibilities towards the
administration of the correctional facility. Unfortunately, if the two circles hold “conflicting
definitions” then role strain is likely to occur (Stryker, 1980: 78). Role strain, originally
defined as “difficulty in meeting given role demands” (Goode, 1960:485), been expanded to
include other role problems, two of which most frequently researched being „role ambiguity‟
and „role conflict‟ (Lois, 2006).
Role problems have garnered so much attention within prison scholarship because they are
key determinants of a range of outcomes. Within the general population, role strain has been
positively associated with worker burnout (Lois, 2006). Amongst prison staff however, role
problems have been negatively associated with CO job satisfaction (Castle, 2008: 52). More
critically, it is the only variable that has consistently been linked to a custodial-punitive
orientation – COs that experience role problems are more likely to hold punitive attitudes
(Hepburn & Albonetti, 1980; Poole & Regoli, 1980; Cullen et al., 1989; Whitehead &
Lindquist, 1989) and be less supportive of rehabilitation (Shamir & Drory, 1981).
For chaplains in US corrections, a great source of role strain derives from the unanticipated
gulf between their preconceived expectations for their role and that of the prison reality
(Hicks, 2008). In particular, many chaplains lamented they did not expect most of their time
would be spent filling out paperwork, coordinating prison programs and the volunteers
involved, meaning whatever time they had left to spend with inmates was less than ideal
(Sundt & Cullen, 1998). Some chaplains also expressed how underprepared they were when
they first started, both emotionally and lacking the proper training (Beckford & Gilliat, 1998).
Also unexpected was the lack of influence they would have within the system, as few
chaplains are positioned to play an “adversary role” in their prison facility (Shaw, 1995: 2).
Another form of role strain is role ambiguity, which occurs when there is a “lack of the
necessary information available to a given organizational position” (Rizzo, et al., 1970: 151).
This increases the likelihood that an individual will be dissatisfied with his or her role,
experience stress, and perform less effectively (Kahn et al., 1964; Rizzo et al., 1970). From his
own experience, Shaw (1995: 42) recalls the “confused and varying expectations” demanded
of him as a prison chaplain, which he credits to the lack of agreement over the chaplaincy‟s
purpose amongst prison staff, inmates, and even other members of the clergy.
As mentioned, the marginalisation of religion within corrections has been argued to have
contributed to the ambiguousness of the chaplains‟ role (Sundt & Cullen, 1998). For
chaplains, the main challenge is “how to recognise but not cross the thin line of apparent
ambiguity between heeding the biblical mandate of service to those who need it and yet at the
same time performing their assigned tasks of the satisfaction of prison officials” (Murton,
1979: 7). Not only do chaplains can find themselves caught between differing expectations
from inmates and officers whilst having to minister to both, they also receive potentially
conflicting expectations from their affiliated religious organisation and prison administration
(Sundt & Cullen, 1998).
Role conflict arises when the demands of one role directly interfere with another (Hecht,
2001). As civil service employees hired by their respective prisons, US prison chaplains face
the complexity of having secular, sacred, rehabilitative, and custodial roles – seemingly
incompatible demands which has been hypothesised to be a source of role conflict (Sundt,
1997; Sundt & Cullen, 1998; 2002). It has been argued that the debilitating prison
environment a process of „prisonisation‟ is inflicted upon inmates, in which they adopt “the
folkways, mores, customs, and general culture of the penitentiary” (Clemmer, 1940: 299). The
same process has been hypothesised to also occur in prison staff, corrupting their intentions to
„do good‟ as they increasingly identify with a custodial role (Haney et al., 1973). However,
this view has been made obsolete, as studies have consistently reported that correctional
officers (Cullen et al., 1993b; Cullen et al., 1989; Whitehead & Lindquist, 1989) as well as
chaplains (Sundt & Cullen, 2002; Hicks, 2008), are simultaneously supportive of both custody
Resolving role problems
Past research has identified a range of strategies individuals can engage in to resolve role
problems, including abandoning conflicting roles, rationalisation, or the compartmentalising
of roles (Burchard, 1954; Turner, 1978) – solutions which emphasise an increase in the
separation of conflicting roles. More recently, Lois (2006) introduced the concept of „role
harmony‟ as one where individuals can avoid role strain by integrating roles and prioritising
others. More specifically for prison chaplains, Hicks (2008) proposed another important mode
of adaptation she coined „role fusion.‟ Although many chaplains expected their sole purpose
was to rehabilitate inmates through religion, the social structure of the prison environment
resulted in a conflicting role set, with chaplains realising they also had to associate closely
with COs to access inmates, as well as deal with feeling unwelcome and misunderstood by
prison staff (Hicks, 2008). She argues that the aforementioned strategies such as
compartmentalisation and abandonment of roles was not available to chaplains, and thus to
manage their inflated expectations, they utilised the stereotype of inmates as „immature‟ and
„manipulative,‟ and fused their rehabilitative role to involve the “sanctioning of inmates” for
their rule-violating behaviour (i.e. being „firm but fair‟), with the belief this was an important
part of rehabilitating them in becoming rule-abiding citizens (Hicks, 2008: 413). This allowed
them to maintain the „religious idealism‟ that informed their rehabilitative objectives, yet
adhere to their custodial role of upholding security measures (Hicks, 2008: 417). In this
context, role fusion can be understood as a “creative effort to alter the character of
expectations” (Stryker, 1980: 75).
Job stress and job dangerousness
Two less frequently examined features – job stress and job dangerousness, have also been
known to influence rehabilitative and custodial support amongst prison staff. Job stress,
defined as “the psychological discomfort or tension which results from exposure to stressors,”
is a commonly reported phenomenon amongst COs (Cullen et al., 1985: 507), with aggregate
findings showing that they seem to experience disproportionately high levels of work stress,
job dissatisfaction, and even stress-related illnesses (Cheek & Miller, 1983).
Similarly, perceptions that prison work is dangerous have been hypothesised to increase
attitudes of punitiveness and decrease support for rehabilitation. Feelings of job
dangerousness may result in perceptions that offenders are threatening, and therefore in need
of punishment and control (Sundt & Cullen, 2002). Although preliminary findings have found
no support for this amongst COs in relation to their views on rehabilitation or punishment
(Cullen et al., 1989), chaplains who felt their work was dangerous in Sundt and Cullen‟s
(2002) sample were actually more likely to hold punitive attitudes.
Job satisfaction and calling
While job satisfaction is a concept distinct from job stress, it has been found to impact it – in
fact, it has been suggested that job satisfaction is the most reliable predictor of job stress for
correctional officers over any other variables (Castle & Martin, 2006). Unlike most other
prison staff however, anecdotal accounts of prison chaplaincy paint it as a challenging, yet
rewarding occupation (Sundt & Cullen, 2007). On the whole, prison chaplains seem to be
content with their work, with 99% of participants in Sundt & Cullen‟s (2007) study reporting
they were „very‟ or at least „somewhat‟ satisfied with their work, three times more likely than
COs to be „very satisfied‟ in a comparable study, challenging common assumptions that
prison work is inherently unrewarding and stressful (Cullen et al., 1990). Given their many
duties and wide scope of care, chaplains also appear to cope well with the demands of their
job, reporting only low to moderate levels of work-related stress (Sundt & Cullen, 2007). One
explanation is that individuals who attribute a deeper meaning to their work find it more
rewarding, allowing them to better cope with occupational challenges. For some, this might
take the form of a religious „calling,‟ or “a task set by God with a sense of obligation to work
for purposes other than one's own” (Christopherson, 1994: 219).
Heeding a „divine call‟ at beginning of their careers has been a prominent theme amongst
Christian clergy in the UK and US (Blohm, 2005; Zikmund et al., 1998), a trend which has
been reflected in Sundt & Cullen‟s (2007) research where „virtually all‟ prison chaplains
experience the narrative of „calling.‟ How the „call‟ is understood is important, as it frames
how chaplains interpret and define their job, with chaplains drawing upon it to “inform and
legitimate” what they do (Hicks, 2008: 405). Particularly for Christian chaplains, Biblical
verses such as “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt. 25:36) is often seen as a “Biblical
mandate” to minister to those in prison (Sundt & Cullen, 2007: 135). In turn, these
interpretations may inform chaplains‟ rehabilitative and correctional orientations. In Sundt and
Cullen‟s (1998) study, calling was not related to role problems, but those who did not feel
called experienced higher role ambiguity. They also confirmed that chaplains who felt „called‟
to prison chaplaincy were less likely to support punishment (Sundt & Cullen, 2002). Finally,
deriving meaning from one‟s calling may contribute positively to one‟s mental health. In their
study on personal resiliency amongst Christian clergy, Meek et al. (2003) identified that a
„sense of calling‟ contributed to resilience in the face of demands placed on the helping
profession. Wrzesniewski et al. (1997) also reported those with a sense of calling (religious or
otherwise) reported the highest life and job satisfaction compared to those without – that is,
seeing work simply as a „job‟ or „career‟ does not seem to produce a deep satisfaction and
psychological success that those who are „called‟ seem to enjoy (Hall & Chandler, 2005).
These findings may not be representative of chaplains of other faiths however, as most
existing research on prison chaplains have drawn upon a predominantly Christian sample.
Chaplains of other religions that may not share a discourse of „calling‟ within their theology
may have alternate reasons for choosing such a prison vocation. By interrogating
understandings of „being called‟ amongst a broader cohort of „other faith‟ chaplains, I hope to
understand how chaplains who lack Sundt and Cullen‟s more restrictive definition of „calling‟
may derive meaning in spite of a challenging vocational environment.
1.1 Prison chaplaincy in New South Wales
With its legacy as a penal colony to relieve overcrowded British prisons, Australian prison
chaplaincy has existed since the First Fleet arrived in 1787 (Moore, 2008). Records show that
while subsidised pastors were assigned to NSW prisons in early colonial years, unsubsidised
pastoral care has been a long-established tradition resulting from the humanitarian efforts of
British prison visiting groups who lobbied for prison reform (Moore, 2008). Escalating
concerns regarding insufficient funding for chaplains to minister to mental health patients in
the 1950s led to the establishment of the CCAC in 1958, the first official NSW chaplaincy
organisation (Gleeson & Herbert, 2005).1 However, it was not until 1962 that three prison
chaplains were appointed full-time to Long Bay Penitentiary by the Committee.
In NSW, a Corrective Services Chaplain is “an ordained person, priest, member of a religious
order, deaconess or other person” who “minister[s] to the religious needs of persons in the
setting in which they serve” (CCAC, 1999). Chaplains‟ provision to correctional centres is
part of prisoners‟ religious rights under the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia,
in which prisoners have the right to practise their choice of religion, and that “qualified
representative[s] of that religion” to be appointed, should a sufficient number of prisoners
practise the same religion.2 The provision of chaplains is also decreed under the Crimes
(Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (s79) such that “the appointment of ministers of
religion and other spiritual advisors” are to be provided to fulfil “the observance by inmates of
religious rites and obligations.” Thus, although chaplains are employed by law as ministers to
Previously known as the Standing Committee on Hospital Chaplaincies (SCHC) until 14 April 1961, and
Hospital Chaplaincy Advisory Committee (HCAC) until May 1972 (Gleeson & Herbert, 2005: 4-7).
Based on The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners and Related
cater to the religious needs of inmates, and facilitate their observance of religious rites, as my
thesis will demonstrate, chaplains in fact perform many roles beyond these legal requirements,
of which the most significant being that of inmate rehabilitation.
In March 2009, 34 full-time, 46 part-time and numerous sessional chaplains were providing
support to inmates and staff in correctional centres across NSW (Moore, 2008: 72).3 Ninety
percent of appointed chaplains remain affiliated to Christian denominations, roughly split
between Catholic, Anglican and a various Protestant chaplains, while the remaining 10%
consists of one full-time and 4 part-time Muslim chaplains, 8 Buddhist (mostly sessional)
chaplains, and 1 part-time Jewish chaplain (Moore, R., 2010: pers. comm., 27 April).
Corrective Services New South Wales (CSNSW) ensures that correctional centres offer many
worship options, with services conducted at least fortnightly. For example in 2007, over 1,000
inmates of a prison population of 9,670 attended a service of worship weekly (Moore, 2008:
73). Apart from conducting worship services however, NSW chaplains are also responsible
for providing various support services, such as pastoral care to inmates and staff, counselling,
and facilitating secular and faith-based rehabilitative programs (CACC, 1999).
Importance of chaplains’ independence
Sundt & Cullen (2002) noted that whether or not chaplains are employed by their appointed
prison may influence chaplains‟ correctional orientation, and it has been suggested that
chaplains employed by the prison may experience a conflict of interest between their pastoral
duties to inmates, and obligation to the state (Stolz, 1978; Murton, 1979). In fact, those
Sessional chaplains are not attached permanently to any correctional centre, working only 1 to 2 days a week,
and any additional days on an „on-call‟ basis.
employed as prison employees has been argued to be more „socialised‟ into a corrective role,
resulting in increased identification with the prison‟s custodial and punitive objectives (Sundt
& Cullen, 2002: 374).
Thus, it is important to note that NSW chaplains are employees of their respective religious
organisations, and not of any governmental department. Instead, CSNSW subsidises most full-
time and some part-time chaplains (CCAC, 2005). The CCAC maintains that chaplaincy
services must remain independent from the NSW Public Service (Gleeson & Herbert, 2005) –
a view supported compellingly by the findings of The Nagle Royal Commission, wherein a
series of prison riots in NSW during the early 1970s uncovered the institutionalised physical,
verbal and psychological brutality suffered by inmates within prisons, to which chaplains
unwittingly contributed to by informing prison administration of discontent inmates, resulting
in distrust of chaplains among prisoners (Nagle, 1978). As a result, the following
recommendations were made regarding their independence:
Chaplains should have free and independent access to any prisoner, and should be
responsible to no one except their own Church.
Chaplains should not be required to act as a liaison officer or mediator, except at their
own discretion and responsibility.
They should not be required – nor should they volunteer – to act on any committee
involved with the administration of prisons (CCAC, 1999).
Other recommendations also included warnings against long terms of appointment, as
chaplains might “subconsciously become part of that administration,” thus becoming
recognised as part of the system, and that wages should be received from the churches, and
not from the Department (Nagle, 1978: 245).
Changing trends in religious affiliation
A final issue pertinent to NSW chaplaincy is the dramatic changes within Australia‟s religious
landscape in recent years, with large proportional increases of individuals affiliated to
religions other than Christianity. Between the 1996 and 2001 censuses, those affiliated with
Buddhism increased by 79%, Hinduism by 42%, Islam by 40% and Judaism by 5%. These
changes are mostly due to changing patterns in immigrants‟ countries of origin, with the
majority of non-Christian religions more highly represented among recent immigrants than in
the total population (ABS, 2007).
While the religious demographics of inmates are not publicly available through the Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there is reason to assume that the overrepresentation of certain
ethnicities in the NSW prison population will correlate with the overrepresentation of certain
minority religious groups. For example, Muslims constitute about 2% of the population within
the state of Victoria, yet represent 6% of the Victorian prison population (Cooper, 2008).
Further, Indigenous prisoners comprised a quarter (or 7,386) of the total prisoner population in
NSW (ABS, 2009). Whether NSW‟s increasingly multi-faith prison population is catered to,
will depend fully on the CCAC‟s response to ensuring adequate spiritual care is received even
by religious minorities.
Implications for NSW chaplaincy
To date, no systematic cost-benefit analysis on the value of chaplaincy exists in NSW.
However, CSNSW clearly recognises its importance, devoting $2,222,000 to grants and
subsidies for inmates‟ religious attendance in 2009 (CSNSW, 2008-09). Although data on the
efficacy of religious interventions in NSW prisons is limited, a recent study conducted by
Kairos Prison Ministry Australia (KPMA) claims 21% of inmates involved with Kairos Inside,
a Christian-based support program, never return to prison – an improvement upon the overall
recidivism rate (defined as inmates reoffending within two years of release) reported by
CSNSW. According to KMPA (2007), even by producing a 10% improvement on the average
recidivism rate of nearly 44 percent will save the community a conservative estimate of $7.2M
per annum in prison costs. These findings are especially relevant to NSW where recidivism
rates are amongst the highest in Australia (Payne, 2007).
Ultimately, this study hopes to examine the complexities of how the prison environment
influences chaplains‟ understanding of their role, as well as identify chaplains‟ understandings
of the rehabilitative process that they „import‟ into their work. Following Sundt and Cullen‟s
(1998; 2002) application of the Individual experiences-Importation model and Work Role-
Prisonization model to prison chaplains, this thesis will use these two models to loosely
inform the questions posed to prison chaplains in NSW. Since past applications of the
Individual experiences-Importation model has proved unfruitful, this thesis will focus on
organisational-level variables, paying particular attention to potential role problems, their
sources, and how NSW chaplains will negotiate these. One individual-level variable of
interest however, is how personal religious orientation shapes a chaplain‟s views towards
punishment and rehabilitation. Assumptions such as „hell-fire‟, religious „forgiveness‟ and
„calling,‟ have been developed out of research that has been heavily focused on Christian
clergy, and as such, it is important to see if such discourses are shared by chaplains from other
This research is likely the first to directly engage a cohort of NSW prison chaplains about
their experiences, their duties, and their interactions and relationships with inmates, prison
staff, and other chaplains. How these experiences affect their understanding of their role, and
how these in turn shapes their views on rehabilitation is of particular interest. It is beyond the
scope of the present research to undertake comparative research between the different
religious orientations of the chaplains and the corrective orientations that emerge. However,
individual chaplain‟s understanding of their rehabilitative role will be examined within a
larger religio-institutional narrative when possible.
Sources of role strain and role conflict will be identified, and how these are negotiated will be
explored. Chaplains bear the duty of fostering religious freedom for all inmates, yet also
remain accountable to the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) in matters pertaining to
prison protocol and security; thus there is great potential for role conflict. In addition, since
prison chaplains in NSW are not employees of the State, it is of interest whether they identify
to a lesser extent with the custodial-punitive aims of the prison setting than their American
counterparts. It is expected that due to their nominal accountability towards the DCS, there
will be little role conflict between the custodial and rehabilitative roles amongst NSW
chaplains. Whether NSW chaplains face similar structural and interpersonal challenges of
prison chaplains in the US also remains unknown. Currently, the full-time chaplain-to-inmate
ratio in NSW is not even at 1:300, compared to the recommended United Nations standard of
1: 220 (Cooper, 2008).4 Thus preliminary analysis expects them to report role strain and burn
out to be significant problems, simply due to their small numbers.
Finally, particular attention will be paid to the ways in which NSW chaplains, many of whom
are affiliated with Christian denominations, come to terms with an increasingly multi-faith
inmate population. Within the confines of prison, members of different faiths are subjected to
living at close quarters, which has been known to heighten religious differences, increasing
religious sensitivities between chaplain and inmate, as well as amongst chaplains themselves
(Beckford, 1998; 2001). Thus, how NSW chaplains relate to the challenges of religious
diversity will also be explored, as well as the measures they take to ensure the needs of all
inmates are met, even those that adhere to faiths other than their own.
Based on calculations of 35 full-time chaplains and 11,160 inmates in NSW at 2009 (NSW Inmate Census,
Part 2. Data and Methods
Scholarship on prison chaplaincy remains predominantly quantitative. For example,
chaplains‟ support for various correctional philosophies was assessed by Sundt and Cullen
(2002) utilising mail surveys requiring forced-choice responses. In their follow-up study,
chaplains‟ roles in prisoner rehabilitation were ascertained via statements relating to inmate
punishment and rehabilitation, with subjects asked to indicate their views on a six-point Likert
scale ranging from „agree strongly‟ to „disagree strongly‟ (Sundt et al., 2002). While both
studies allow for direct comparison of participants‟ attitudes, the findings of the studies do not
adequately capture the significance of daily activities for chaplains themselves, nor the
interpretations or meanings assigned to them. Sundt & Cullen themselves conclude chaplains
“hold complex views about the purpose of prisons” (2002: 381), further justifying the need for
qualitative research to disentangle these views.
Instead, qualitative methods are better suited for pursuing meanings, contexts, and processes
by emphasising language rather than numbers (Lofland et al. 2006). Wanting to allow
participants to develop their narratives and elaborate on their views on corrections and
rehabilitation, I utilised qualitative interviews as my primary method of data collection.
Seeking to understand themes of the chaplains‟ experiences from their own perspective, this
involved critical questioning and careful listening by the interviewer (Kvale, 1996). (See
Hicks (2008) for a successful example of the qualitative interview in prison chaplaincy
In addition, the CCAC guidelines and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between
the CCAC and NSW Department of Corrective Services (both publicly available on the
CCAC‟s website) were drawn upon to contextualise the interviews. As official documents
outlining policy discourses, they can be said to represent “a system of meaning embodied in a
strategy for action” (Healey, 1997: 277) – that is, the discourse has implications beyond the
text itself, proving useful in providing detailed information about the structure of
organisations and their activities, as well as insight into how the organisation manages its
public representation (Noaks & Wincup, 2004).
My sample is a purposive one, with “persons, or events [that] are deliberately selected for the
important information they can provide” (Maxwell, 1997: 87). In total, fifteen prison
chaplains were interviewed, conducted at various locations in metropolitan Sydney across two
months (see Table 1).
Twelve chaplains belonged to various Christian denominations, with the majority (seven)
coming from an Anglican background.5 The remaining three were Buddhist (two) and
Muslim. Participants included five women and ten men aged between 45 and 79, with an
average age of 62. The period of service as chaplains ranged from not yet a year to 20 years,
bringing the average length of service to 8.8 years. Chaplains serviced a full range of
correctional centres, ranging from minimum to maximum security, and both male and female
facilities. Due to the conservative sample size, I do not expect my findings to be widely
To avoid unnecessary complexity by referring to their individual denominations, chaplains from Anglican,
Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic backgrounds will be referred to as „Christian‟ or „Protestant‟
hereafter, unless specifically stated.
generalised, but instead aim to be „credible‟ for the purpose of this study, focusing instead on
depth and detail (Patton, 1987).
Table 1. Religious affiliation and employment status of interviewed chaplains
Name Religious affiliation Employment status
Paul Anglican Full-time
Gabbie Anglican Full-time
Fredrick Anglican Full-time
Helen Anglican Full-time
Rachel Anglican Full-time
Greg Anglican Full-time
Bruce Anglican Full-time
Irene Catholic Full-time
Richard Pentecostal Full-time
Ian Presbyterian Full-time
Darren Roman Catholic Full-time
Eun Buddhist Sessional
Michael Buddhist Sessional
Philip Greek Orthodox Sessional
Amir Muslim Sessional
The CCAC coordinator, having approved the project, circulated an email invitation on my
behalf to CCAC prison chaplains within NSW (Appendix A). Interviews were arranged with
interested chaplains at a location convenient to them (e.g. regional headquarters of their
respective religious organisations).
To facilitate a smooth „flow‟ of information from the participant, I assumed the
“quintessential student role,” which according to Lofland et al. (2006: 68), is more likely to be
accepted (especially with professionals) by virtue of being “socially acceptable incompetent.”6
By emphasising my lack of knowledge on prison chaplaincy, especially within NSW,
chaplains were happy to elaborate upon their experiences, and explain procedures and duties
to me in great detail. Aware that my own personal religious beliefs might contribute to
interviewer bias, interviews were carried out with reflexive awareness (Fook, 1999). By
attempting to strike a balance between „objectivity‟ and „openness,‟ I remained neutral and
professional, yet committed in capturing an accurate reflection of each chaplains‟ experience
(Evans, 1979: x).
Each face-to-face interview lasted between one to two hours, framed by fifteen semi-
structured, open-ended research questions (Appendix B). The flexibility inherent in this
research instrument allowed for follow-up and probing questions, and can be easily re-ordered
if the question has already been answered (Gilbert, 2001). I explained the focus and goals of
my research to each chaplain as way of introduction – an important signpost to directing
participants through the rest of the interview (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). The interview itself
was based around four main topics: (1) general information (personal demographics and
employment and religious background the participant, and description of their prison facility),
(2) roles of the NSW chaplain, (3) chaplains‟ views on rehabilitation and (4) values and
religious beliefs informing their work.
Interested in the path participants took to become a prison chaplain, I began the interview
using a „life story‟ approach (Atkinson, 2002), encouraging the interviewee to retell their
religious and employment histories to trace the purposes, commitments and meanings that led
them into prison chaplaincy. “Thick descriptions” (Denzin, 1989) of chaplains‟ daily duties,
the prison setting, and everyday interactions were prompted to understand the socialising
process into chaplaincy. I also sought chaplains‟ views on their roles, and any conflicts or
challenges they might have encountered, and the ways in which these were negotiated.
Chaplains‟ support for inmate rehabilitation and punishment was explored through questions
loosely based on Sundt and Cullen‟s (2002) rehabilitative and custodial-punitiveness
orientation scales. Finally, given their commitment to religion as religious representatives, I
was interested in how their religious views and beliefs informed what they did, and their
patronage of both secular and faith-based rehabilitation programs.
The transcripts and documents were analysed utilising a combination of thematic, narrative
and Foucauldian discourse analysis. Thematic analysis was employed to identify chaplains‟
common duties and their relative importance. Narrative analysis was used to draw out the
“broader interpretive framework” (Ezzy, 2002: 95) of how chaplains understood their path
into chaplaincy, as well as their understanding of the process of inmate rehabilitation. Finally,
grounded in Foucault‟s theories of discourse, power and knowledge, Foucauldian discourse
analysis has the basic assumption that discourses are manifest in “policy rhetoric, documents,
plans or programmes, but also in institutional structures, practices and events” (Sharp &
Richardson, 2001: 201). Thus, this method was especially appropriate in allowing the
mechanisms of the prison institution, and its governance, be illuminated without “making
prior assumptions about institutional boundaries and the roles of actors located within these
institutions” (Hewitt, 2009: 6). Adopting this approach was particularly useful in
understanding how chaplains engaged and interacted with others in the prison environment, as
opposed to simply what their actions implied (Dean, 1999). Thus, my aim was not to calculate
the frequency at which particular themes appeared, but to represent their situated effects
(Dixon & Reicher, 1997).
Part 3. Becoming a prison chaplain
In this chapter, the process of becoming a NSW prison chaplain will be traced from their first
expression of interest in prison work, to the adaptations they have made since employment.
Each chaplain‟s process of occupational socialisation will be explored through personal
narratives into prison chaplaincy, which for some involved a narrative of „divine calling.‟ The
preparations involved before appointment will then be outlined, and the chaplains‟ initial
impressions of the prison environment portrayed. Finally, the challenges chaplains‟ first faced
upon employment will be explored, including the ways in which chaplains found themselves
adapting to concerns about occupational dangers and being „conned‟ by inmates. This
provides a framework for an overview of the biggest occupational role challenge for most
chaplains‟ – interactions with COs and prison administration.
Narrative of ‘calling’
A sense of „higher‟ or „divine calling‟ has been considered necessary when engaging in prison
work (Hicks, 2008; Sundt, 1997). However, only one chaplain in the sample agreed that “the
old clichéd „call of God‟” was essential to becoming a prison chaplain. When asked whether
they experienced a sense of „divine calling‟ guiding them into chaplaincy, chaplains‟
responses fell into four main groups: those who were „called‟ to prison work, those who
experienced a broader „call‟ to ministry, those who did not use the term „calling‟ but
expressed the notion of “falling” into the vocation, and those that did not experience any form
of divine calling at all. These results are at odds with previous research that concludes
“virtually all” prison chaplains experience a narrative of „divine calling‟ (Sundt & Cullen,
Of the seven chaplains who experienced some form of calling, only four considered
themselves explicitly „called‟ to prison chaplaincy. Responses such as “I believe God has put
me in this position, called me for [this]” and “I was [...] called to the job in the Christian
tradition,” clearly illustrates that ministering in prisons was something these chaplains pursued
following a summoning from God. For Ian, this was discerned through prayer, who “as a
Christian, it was something I‟d been praying about...where does God want me to serve?” For
the remaining three, the sense of calling was not specific to prison work, but to ministering in
general, like Paul who was just “keen to do any sort of Christian ministry.”
For certain chaplains, the call was in fact contrary to personal preferences (Meek et al., 2003).
Philip, a Greek Orthodox priest, explained that his original intention was to enter naval
chaplaincy, and that prison chaplaincy “just happened” when he was „placed‟ in the position
by his Archdiocese. Anglican chaplain. Fredrick also admitted “prison chaplaincy wasn‟t a
choice of mine, I wasn‟t looking for it.” However, when asked about his calling, he recounted
an event that happened when the bishop asked him to fill the vacancy:
The very first thing that came to mind was „is my grace sufficient enough for
you?‟ Went to have a look at the chapel [in the prison], and the banner hanging
on the wall – „My grace is sufficient for you.‟
In this example, the message was interpreted by Fredrick as more than a coincidence, but for
him, a „sign‟ from God that he was equipped to enter into prison chaplaincy.
One-fifth of chaplains in this sample did not recognise their path into prison chaplaincy as a
„calling,‟ but nonetheless acknowledged the decision as not fully their own (see Hicks, 2008).
Anglican chaplain Bruce‟s initial reaction to prison work was “no thanks!”, describing prison
chaplaincy as something he did not deliberately pursue, but “just ended up falling into it” after
working in various community programs, such as those involving delinquent youths. It was
many years later that he, in his words, “finally took the hint.” Irene, a Catholic chaplain also
“fell into it” after a series of events she interpreted as too “amazing” to be coincidence. Thus,
for these chaplains, taking the form of sudden insight, their calling manifested as a gradual yet
persistent urging that could not be ignored (Blohm, 2005; Zikmund et al., 1998). While these
chaplains did not feel explicitly called, they nonetheless acknowledged a supernatural element
in their path to chaplaincy.
Finally, there were those who did not experience „calling‟ at all. This included both Buddhist
chaplains, the Muslim chaplain, but also a Catholic chaplain, suggesting the lack of calling is
not unique to non-Christian faiths. For Michael, a Buddhist chaplain, the desire to work with
prisoners was a personal realisation after facilitating in-house drug and alcohol programs,
where he identified a “hunger for spiritual nurturing” amongst inmates towards which he
wanted to contribute. Amir, the Muslim chaplain, vehemently denied a sense of calling,
insisting: “there‟s no „calling‟ from Allah [...] I‟m not receiving messages from heaven, no”
but instead understood his working with prisoners was part of his “duties [as] a Muslim” to
“pass the knowledge.”
Michael‟s narrative does not follow the „religious‟ description of calling as “a task set by God
with a sense of obligation to work for purposes other than one's own” (Christopherson, 1994:
219). The reason is obvious, as Michael explains: “there is no trans-personal God in
Buddhism.” Yet his reasons for entering prison work are comparable to what Hall and
Chandler (2005) identified as a „secular view‟ of calling. Within organisational psychology,
„calling‟ has been reconceptualised to describe “an individual doing work out of a strong
sense of inner direction – work that would contribute to a better world,” and is seen as a
general form of “psychological engagement” with the meaning of one‟s work (Hall &
Chandler, 2005: 160). Thus, the source of calling comes not from external goal-seeking (such
as status or monetary benefits, or in the case of some chaplains, answering to God) but from
within the individual, through processes such as introspection and reflection (Hall & Chandler,
Results from this sample have provided an alternative understanding of religious narratives
into clergy work. Existing research on chaplaincy by Sundt & Cullen (2007) operationalised
„calling‟ as “ha[ving] special meaning because I have been called by God to do what I am
doing” and “I was put on earth to do what I am doing” – sentiments which were only shared
by a small portion of those interviewed. Even chaplains who felt „called‟ experienced it to
varying degrees, revealing the limitations of Sundt and Cullen‟s (2007) survey method.
Existing research into prison chaplaincy, which remains predominantly Christian-centric, has
likely resulted in an overly narrow definition of calling as a „divine directive‟ involving God
(e.g. Hicks, 2008). As these interviews illustrate, chaplains need not understand their career
path to involve a „call‟ from God to derive meaning from their work. Further exploration of a
broader definition of „calling‟ has also exposed the possibility of expanding current
understanding to include non-Christian religions, where calling can stem from an internal
source via self-reflection (Hall & Chandler, 2005).
Initial impressions of the prison environment
In NSW, all prospective prison chaplains, upon accreditation by the Commissioner of
Corrective Services, are required to undergo a Criminal Record Check, a three-day Security
Awareness (Induction) Course conducted by the Department, and attend a 5-day orientation
course by the CCAC. Full-time chaplains are further required to undertake a Clinical Pastoral
Education course (CPE) or equivalent within the first year of service (CCAC & NSWDCS,
2006). In some cases however, even sufficient training cannot prepare individuals for the
prison environment – existing accounts of prison chaplaincy have documented the realities of
prison as drastically different from chaplains‟ expectations prior to prison work (Hicks, 2008).
Chaplains have also been known to feel emotionally underprepared upon employment, and
lack training in dealing with inmates of other (i.e. non-Christian) faiths (Beckford & Gilliat,
Ian initially found the prison environment “unsettling” and “overwhelming”. A death in
custody occurred in the wing he was responsible for within his first few weeks of
employment, which was “a bit of a shock.” Depending on the prison facility, Ian has felt
intimidated about the “violence […] that surfaces” from time to time, and the unpredictability
of the environment. Darren, a Catholic chaplain, further described the prison as “very cold and
clinical” and a “very, very negative environment.” He admits:
I was scared. Because you meet these big armed doors, and they‟re metal doors
around 4 inches thick. And you go in, and you‟re locked in there, and then
you‟re put through all these security cameras and biometrics, and photograph
Yet Ian and Darren‟s initial impressions of prison were only minority views, as few chaplains
in this sample felt unprepared for prison work. For example, Aboriginal chaplain Gabbie
“already had a fair idea of who was there” because as an Elder in her Koori community, she
felt familiar with poverty and the related “lower socio-economic issues” such as
imprisonment. Helen, an Anglican chaplain also reported prior dealings with criminal and
drug dealers as a priest at her parish church, which was actually “more stressful than working
in a prison” because there is “less security in place and less control.” In fact, few chaplains
found job dangerousness an issue, with several chaplains mentioning they actually felt safer
within prison walls, like Fredrick who does not even carry a duress alarm. Philip believes that
“inmates will look after and protect their priests” because they are considered
“non-threatening.” Ironically, several chaplains like Rachel, have felt “more scared about
officers and management than inmates.”
That does not mean chaplains like Paul are unaware that the prison can be a “dangerous place”
where “inmates deal with problems with fists, usually, or with a knife.” Philip considers the
Security Awareness Course a very important part of his training, which included learning
about procedures during lock downs, riots, and other safety protocol that involved them
engaging in constant vigilance. According to Bruce, having seen attempts made on officers‟
lives due to carelessness, the most dangerous thing a chaplain can do is become “numb to the
danger.” As a result, he developed an ability to “pick up little warning signs” that signalled
Learning to discern inmates‟ intentions was a skill many chaplains quickly developed, as they
were frequently sought after by inmates in terms of utility. As Beckford (2001: 375) notes,
“chaplains can prove to be very useful in practical terms when prisoners are seeking to
improve the circumstances of their incarceration.” Chaplains are often targets of
manipulation because as Gabbie explains, “they see you as a soft touch.” Within the sample,
the most popular request from inmates was to make phone calls on their behalf. However,
these were often turned down, as expressed by the rule of “nothing in, nothing out” adhered to
by Paul and Darren:
So you don‟t bring messages out, or messages in. And you don‟t trust anyone.
If you trust people, you won‟t last long. […] You can‟t give him a pen because
he could stab someone.
Darren mentioned that as an ex-teacher who was used to “trusting everyone,” he found
himself learning not to be “conned.” Thus, as part of their occupational socialisation,
chaplains learned not to be as trusting - as Gabbie reflects, “you become a very healthy
In sum, chaplains entered prison work at various stages of „preparedness,‟ but with only a
small minority of chaplains feeling overwhelmed. Most chaplains felt adequately equipped
from their previous experiences working with marginalised groups, and were unfazed by the
very unique environment that the prison turned out to be. Physical danger was not a concern
for most chaplains either, as they felt inmates did not have any reason to attack them, and in
fact, were more likely to feel animosity from officers. It is likely that due to the low overall
perceived job dangerousness, any signs of potential danger were met with increased vigilance,
particularly against inmate manipulation, but not hostility, as previously suggested by Sundt &
Cullen (2002), wherein chaplains who perceived their work as dangerous tended to hold more
punitive attitudes. The significance of security concerns will be developed in the next section
where role conflicts arise as a result of negotiating access with COs and prison administration.
Part 4. How NSW prison chaplains understand their role
Despite concerns that the marginalisation of religion in corrections would result in ambiguity
surrounding the chaplain‟s role (e.g. Sundt, 1997; Sundt & Cullen, 1998), all interviewed
chaplains were confident of their function within prisons, further supporting Sundt‟s (1997)
conclusion that the chaplains‟ role should no longer be considered ambiguous. Unlike US
chaplains, NSW chaplains‟ role set involved minimal obligations towards prison
administrators, and have few custodial duties. Instead, their duties are understood to fall
primarily under the broad umbrella of inmate rehabilitation. According to CCAC guidelines,
prison chaplains‟ main duties include worship (conducting services within correctional
centres), pastoral care (for inmates and staff), welfare, counselling, education (which includes
both secular and faith-based programs), facilitation (usually of minority faith groups), liaison,
and community relations (CCAC, 1999). However, the CCAC (1999) also endeavours not to
impose a pre-determined job description, allowing these roles to be interpreted at the
chaplains‟ discretion, enabling flexible and customised services to be delivered to inmates
depending on their needs.
In the following chapters, the role of the chaplain will be explored through their relationships
with prison staff, inmates, and members of other faiths respectively. Through analysing each
component of the chaplain‟s role set, the chaplain‟s relationships with each of these groups
can “illuminate the larger social structure” (Stryker, 1980: 78) of the prison setting, thus
highlighting power structures and the marking of territories. Due to the wide range of duties
chaplains fulfil for each of the different parties, the analysis in the following section was
limited to recurring themes that were most salient, and most representative of the role that
chaplains understand themselves to play within NSW Corrections.
4.1 An occupational role challenge: Prison staff and administration
From chaplains‟ previous observations, the prison appears to be an institution that involves
demarcation, territories and power struggles, or as Michael puts it, “a complex social system.”
Echoing Hicks‟ (2008) study, one of the biggest occupational role challenges that chaplains in
my sample faced was negotiating with COs and prison administrators. Chaplains found
themselves having to interact with prison personnel in three main ways. First, they rely fully
on the permission of the prison management and cooperation of officers to gain access to
inmates. Second, as stated in the CCAC (1999) guidelines, chaplains are responsible to the
DCS “in matters of security,” a task actively taken on by some through playing an „informant‟
role, reporting to administration of any security risks. Third, apart from inmates, chaplains are
equally obliged to provide pastoral care to COs and other prison staff within their appointed
prison(s), charged with “developing enriched relationships” with prison staff and be “a
listening ear to allow them to vent their frustrations in confidence” (CCAC, 1999). This is a
situation ripe for role conflicts – despite their obligation to cooperate with and provide
pastoral care to COs, at times chaplains find themselves in disaccord with them, particularly
around access to inmates. In the following section I examine the ways in which chaplains
negotiate these often complex relationships with COs, which were altered and redefined to
achieve role harmony.
Power structures within the prison
The warders control the gaol [...] they‟re the gatekeepers [...] that means that
chaplaincy‟s access is basically controlled by the warder culture.
Michael‟s insight above into the power dynamics between the prison administration and
prison chaplaincy describes one of chaplain‟s biggest obstacles – the power welded by COs in
denying or allowing access to inmates. He recalls having to advocate for inmates‟ rights to
attend his meditation classes, citing certain COs as “uncooperative” and “passive aggressive”
when he solicited their help. Yet he has refrained from confronting COs in the past because
“you‟re totally at their mercy.” Similarly, COs were the “biggest challenge” when Paul first
started work at his two maximum security facilities. He recounts how a senior officer
prevented him from holding Sunday services because the chapel door, which is adjacent to the
methadone clinic, was ordered „not to be opened‟ while the clinic is operating due to the
security precautions. To Paul, this was a case of “mismanagement”. His interpretation of the
situation actually supports findings (e.g. Hepburn & Albonetti, 1980; Poole & Regoli, 1980)
that officers return to a default custodial position in the face of ambiguous roles, with Paul
commenting: “it‟s too hard to think through the issues, so their fail-safe position is the easy
way – it‟s just „no‟.”
Richard sums up the power dynamic between chaplains and officers succinctly:
Chaplains who don‟t build relationships with staff find it very difficult to be
able to do what they want to do with inmates. If you have bad relationships [...]
and if this officer thinks this chaplain is a pain or arrogant, I can tell you
they‟re not going to move in a hurry to help you.
Therefore, chaplains quickly learned that having a good working relationship with COs is
crucial to their responsibilities towards inmates. Instances where chaplains have been denied
access have often been cited as security issues, but some chaplains see officers as “using their
own authority” to deliberately obstruct their efforts. Conflicts also occur when “officers get
territorial,” with Bruce describing an officer who “decided chapel was her turf and got very
possessive.” This statement, along with those above, speaks to a fractured prison environment,
delineated along structures of power and ownership.
The uncooperativeness of officers has further been understood by some in terms of a negative
impression of chaplaincy. Darren for example, has been challenged on a number of occasions
by sceptical officers with “you think you‟re doing any good in here?” Philip attributes these
sorts of attitudes to officers‟ lack of knowledge about chaplaincy, that “some of them don‟t
like chaplains because they think we just do nothing.” The sense of scepticism is extended to
faith-based organisations (FBOs). Greg explains this is because some COs “don‟t like
civilians in gaol” or FBO volunteers that are considered “care bears that try and save the
world.” These sentiments are indicative of a broader antagonism towards chaplaincy‟s efforts
by certain prison administrations, like at Rachel‟s correctional centre where “we aren‟t getting
a lot of support in any of our programs…in fact total opposition to it.”
That is not to say chaplains are passive participants in the system. Due to their independent
status, some chaplains consider themselves a “quasi-independent force” that can act as
„whistle blowers‟ in the case of institutional injustice (Beckford, 2001: 375). For example, Ian
describes himself as a “wicket-keeper” when it comes to prisoner welfare, recently
contributing to a review of his prison facility where inmates are only allowed non-contact
visits for their first 8 months of imprisonment – a rule which he thought was “an absolute
breach of human rights.” It is his view that chaplaincy has a very unique position to advocate
for inmates, albeit in a gracious and respectful manner, by provide an alternative point of
view. He does acknowledge however, that advocating is not something all chaplains are in a
position to do, as psychologists, welfare workers, and education officers might “feel
threatened [by chaplains] for having more of a vocal input.” Another added of the prison
administration: “the chaplain‟s not under their power, and that‟s frightening [to them]”.
Responsibilities towards prison administration and staff
Liaising with a correctional centre‟s administration is understood by most chaplains as
necessary for the smooth operation prisons. For Richard, “chaplains need to be part of a team
and work with administration…we try to work together for the good of the people of the
complex.” While it has been suggested that chaplains can be an important part of the prison
management team to help control inmates (Cook, 1994), it was not an understanding that
existed within this sample. Instead, some chaplains expressed having the duty of „informant,‟
like Ian who believes they have “a very trusted role” in being aware of the happenings of the
facility, and “share that with the appropriate people within the system” where needed. For Ian,
this is especially true when others may be placed at risk, such as when he learned that a group
of Muslim inmates were planning to stage a riot. He discreetly informed the „intel‟ officer and
the manager of the gaol, whom in turn acted upon it.
Despite the above, genuine partnerships and friendships have been formed between chaplains
and prison staff. Although some chaplains see their duty as predominantly to serve inmates,
certain chaplains deliberately set aside time to counsel staff, such as Greg who insists “10% of
my time has got to be to the officers,” and Richard who estimates he splits his time 50/50
between inmates and staff. Most chaplains are on good terms with officers, like Gabbie, who
knows “just about every prison officer by first name.” Some long-serving chaplains have also
been invited by prison officers to oversee their weddings and baptisms. Greg fondly recalls
speaking at the funeral of a relative of a much-feared officer, known to colleagues as “the gate
Nazi.” Greg was only person in the gaol that sent him a sympathy card, and as a result of his
initiative, this particular officer “started to soften” towards Greg. Greg credits himself to this
officer‟s change in personality by being “that somebody to care about him as a person.”
Role conflict and role strain
The above demonstrates just how diverse the chaplains‟ responsibilities towards the prison
are. As a result, two types of role problems are likely to develop. First, the chaplain‟s
responsibility to prison security can be a potential source of role strain when it interferes with
meeting their obligations with inmates. This is especially true when the security concerns are
not always seen as legitimate. Simultaneously, their role as informant and responsibility for
staff care is likely to be a source of role conflict in terms of loyalty towards inmates, such as
Richard who has been asked by inmates “you talk to COs – can we trust you?” The reverse is
also true, with one chaplain who found himself being “check[ed] up” by officers as to whether
he was “colluding” with inmates.
The severity of conflicting responsibilities is further illustrated by Darren, who provides a
glimpse into the politics of the prison: “when [COs] put on their blue uniform, they are
number one enemy. And they are scared.” Such fears are not unfounded, with Michael
cautioning “if prisoners find that you‟ve been providing information, you can get killed.”
Thus, providing pastoral care to both could pose a question of loyalty, and threat to chaplains
in some cases. Although most chaplains still see their responsibility to inmates as paramount,
Michael ironically found himself having to side with the officers for the benefit of the
inmates, because “the officer can make the inmate‟s life hell.” Others are more wary about
“walking that narrow line between blue and green,” and see themselves as a neutral party who
belongs to neither side.
Resolving role problems
Hicks‟ (2008) sample of prison chaplains experienced role strain by having to expand their
rehabilitative duties to include correctional objectives – a dilemma chaplains in this study also
faced. In a similar way, NSW prison chaplains underwent the fusing of their role in security
and role towards inmates to mitigate role strain. Chaplains often consoled their failed attempts
to access inmates by understanding security as the primary objective of the prison. Paul does
not question orders from COs because he acknowledges their responsibility for everyone‟s
safety, “put[ting] themselves at risk to rescue me” if such a situation arises. Ian also
understands his role as informant by making security his first priority because “chaplains
aren‟t there to feather the bed of crime in the system, or to make the gaol a less secure place.”
By prioritising safety, Paul is able to fuse his security responsibilities with those towards
inmates by “mak[ing] it clear to inmates if I believe that they are at risk or someone else is at
risk, I have to tell someone else about it.”
However, NSW chaplains also have the duty of staff care, which Hicks‟ sample did not,
meaning chaplains in my sample also had to negotiate the role conflict between meeting
inmates‟ versus staff needs. This was mitigated not by compartmentalising their pastoral
responsibilities towards staff as a conflicting role, but as part of a larger duty to care pastorally
for the prison as a whole, such as Helen who insists “[pastoral care]‟s for everyone at the
prison – security staff, education staff, and everyone else.” Interestingly, having the
responsibility to extend staff care actually allowed chaplains to be more empathetic to the
COs‟ perspective. Some chaplains who have been hindered from accessing inmates in the past
have reconciled these unpleasant experiences with that fact officers “might be having a bad
day” or had problems of their own. In fact, working together in the same environment may
foster understanding. This was evidenced by Fredrick, who said he can sympathise “with what
they have to work with.” Similarly, Michael, who has seen suicides, hostages and assaults,
ultimately respects the stances that officers take. Some, like Ian see themselves on the same
team by “count[ing] the custodial officers, and all members of staff as colleagues” who are
working together in a “very harsh environment.” This has taken place as a conscious effort for
some, like Ian for whom it took two years before the “coldness, aloofness” between himself
and the COs “thawed away beautifully.” Most chaplains are able to see past previous conflict
to the „humanness‟ of the officers, and extend pastoral care to officers because “well, they‟re
human too.” Uncooperative officers are seen only as an occasional problem, with the majority
of the staff described as “diamonds,” “genuine and professional,” and who “do a very good
job under trying circumstances.”
Thus, chaplains see themselves as „quasi-independent‟ forces, yet like Ian, realises that they
are “not separate from the system” and must learn to work within it. Nor do they consider
themselves passive agents within the system, with chaplains adopting the role of „advocate,‟
being prepared to stand up for inmates in serious cases of injustice or misconduct. The
tumultuous relationships with COs were also redefined to fit within their primary role identity
as provider of pastoral care to the facility as a whole. Role problems were avoided by
achieving role harmony (Lois, 2006) – integrating both pastoral roles towards inmates and
staff as an overarching pastoral responsibility, and prioritising their role in security above all
When asked what they perceived as their main role with inmates, the chaplains interviewed
most often mentioned pastoral care, counselling, and worship. Although counselling was often
mentioned interchangeably with pastoral care, some were careful to differentiate between the
two. Paul a full-time Anglican chaplain who completed a Masters in Pastoral Care and
Counselling, explains that counselling is more directive and maintains stronger boundaries
between counsellor and those seeking counsel. In contrast he describes pastoral care as an
activity that predominantly involves listening and more personal involvement from both
parties, “step[ping] across boundaries you won‟t normally step across” as a counsellor. This
distinction is important, as counselling encroaches on roles of other stakeholders in inmate
rehabilitation such as psychologists. Nevertheless, chaplains‟ understanding of their position
to provide something that other treatment staff cannot further substantiates their unique
contribution to the rehabilitation of inmates.
Worship and ritual
The CCAC (1999) guidelines define worship-related duties to include conducting services and
the administration of the sacraments and rituals. In 2007 alone, prison chaplains were
responsible for conducting 19 baptisms, 4,000 celebrations of Holy Communion, 4 marriages,
150 formal confessions and 92 funerals and memorial services within NSW corrections
(Moore, 2008:73). The conducting of worship services and religious ritual is the only role
common to all chaplains. Almost every Anglican chaplain runs chapel services, ranging from
daily to weekly, depending on facility sizes and availability of the chapel as determined by
each prison‟s administration. Ordained Catholic and Anglican chaplains conduct Sunday mass
and Communion, or arrange for an external visiting priest to do so. The Muslim chaplain leads
Friday noon prayers on alternating weeks between three different correctional centres. Finally,
both Buddhist chaplains hold meditation classes, with one leading chanting and prayer
sessions as well.
As an Anglican priest, Helen considers her main duties to be performing the rituals of Holy
Communion, baptism and Absolution, which she explains is “pronounc[ing] forgiveness”.
These services can perform a symbolic function for some inmates, with Helen noting that
rituals, especially baptism, play an important role for inmates in “mark[ing] for them a
decision to do good, or to turn.” Her understanding is that individuals have “turning points” in
their lives which rituals demonstratively mark, and sees her priestly role as one of “spiritual
support” to oversee these pivotal points. Helen also notes when she wears her priests‟
uniform, she “bring[s] with you this sense of you‟re talking to someone who believes in the
presence of God.” A few chaplains also mentioned that religious representatives who wear
robes “really do it” for inmates because the wearer is “creating a sense of hope.” These
remarks suggest that through the worship services and rituals they perform, chaplains are seen
as representatives of a divine power, invested with „sacred value‟ by some inmates, even those
that might not consider themselves „religious.‟ In Durkheim‟s terms, „sacred‟ things are “set
apart and forbidden” from everything else that is „profane‟ (Durkheim, 1912/1995: 44).
Through the practise of “prayers, sacrifices, proprietary rites” (Durkheim, 1912/1995: 27),
inmates can be seen as engaging in a “unified system of beliefs and practices” that Durkheim
recognises as „religion‟ (Durkheim, 1912/1995: 44). Thus, participating in activities such as
rituals and weekly services also has a social function of „church,‟ which is seen as the “uniting
[of] a single moral community” (Durkheim, 1912/1995: 44).
Powerful religious symbolism is also seen with religious items such as religious texts and
charms. Buddhist chaplain, Eun, supplies free Buddhist images and prayer beads to inmates
upon request because “to them, they think it‟s to protect them.” According to Beckford
(2001), it is not uncommon for inmates to develop unusually powerful attachments to images,
books, talismans and religious artefacts. He argues these religious items can be considered
„sacred‟ in the eyes of some inmates, who invest in them “exceptional power and value”
(Beckford, 2001: 375).
Defined as the “healing, sustaining, guiding and reconciling” of those grappling with life‟s
meanings, pastoral care is considered the most salient role for two-thirds of NSW chaplains
and is not only extended to inmates, but to their families, and the prison staff (CCAC, 1999).
Several chaplains saw pastoral care as synonymous with chaplaincy, like Christian chaplain
Richard, who sees pastoral care as:
...one of the key things of chaplaincy. The reality is if a chaplain is not carrying
out ministry in pastoral care, then they‟re really not doing the job they‟re ought
Ian, an Anglican chaplain agrees:
Pastoral care is essential. At the end of the day, pastoral care [...] is
predominantly what chaplains need to be doing.
While all full-time chaplains are required to complete a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)
course (or equivalent), pastoral care is not performed by all chaplains. This is especially true
for chaplains from minority faith groups who are usually employed part-time, or on a
sessional basis like Buddhist chaplain, Michael: “I don‟t get involved in pastoral care and
welfare...because I only work there one day a week.” Similarly, Amir, the Muslim chaplain
alternates between 3 prisons and only visits on Tuesday mornings and Friday afternoons and
does not have time for one-on-one consultations. As a result, pastoral care for minority faiths,
and arguably for those with no religious affiliation, is overseen by full-time chaplains, such as
Helen who insists: “we‟re there for everyone‟s pastoral care.”
Most chaplains find pastoral care involves talking to, but more importantly, listening to
inmates, acting as a sounding board for “things that they’d like to talk about.”7 For Ian, having
“the time to give to [inmates] if they want to talk” is one of chaplaincy‟s most defining, and
valued characteristics. Many chaplains find themselves becoming close confidants, with
inmates often saying “I‟ve never told anyone this before.” When asked to speculate why this
is the case, Darren sees chaplains as the only prison personnel in a position to listen – officers
are “not to become emotionally involved,” and inmates “don‟t listen to one another.” Philip
further adds that even non-custodial staff such as psychologists and welfare workers are “all
bounded – they‟re all there to do their job” and that chaplains are the only “non-threatening”
ones. More specifically, Paul clarifies that welfare officers and psychologists are required to
report such conversations, whereas chaplains, who are not employed by CSNSW, affords
space for inmates to “feel a bit freer to talk.” Here the implications of the independence of
chaplains from the correctional system become clear, as their independence contributes to
their function as impartial listeners. Because chaplains understand themselves (and are
understood by many inmates) as one of few “quasi-independent” (Beckford, 2001: 375)
stakeholders in the cohort of treatment staff, they are able to engage with inmates on a deeper
level, which Ian believe is “very therapeutic” for inmates.
Existing accounts of prison chaplaincy cite counselling as one of the most important roles of
chaplains, with significant amounts of time devoted towards it (Shaw, 1996; Sundt & Cullen,
1998; Sundt et al., 2002). This is unsurprising, given that the majority of inmates, which
Michael estimates at 60 to 70 percent, have had “dysfunctional and abusive childhoods” and
constitute a “very wounded group of people.” Fredrick sees his counselling work as “a triage
sort of response,” usually in times of “grief and crisis, or trauma.” Some chaplains use very
specific counselling techniques such as motivational interviewing, Gestalt therapy, and Brief
Solution Focused therapy, while others are more intuitive when working with inmates, and
start with a „listening model‟ that focuses more on allowing the inmate to tell their own story.
For example, Gabbie states, “My counselling technique is that the guys have got the answers
within themselves...it‟s just a matter of them looking, search and find.” For others, counselling
occurs very occasionally, like Paul: “It‟s not part of my usual role to have a formal
counselling situation with an inmate. I have done it, but it‟s certainly not on a regular basis.”
Although a number of chaplains have qualifications and practical experience in counselling,
like aforementioned Paul, and Fredrick who has a Postgraduate degree in Pastoral
Counselling, most chaplains clearly differentiate their chaplaincy duties from counselling. As
Rachel states, “I wouldn‟t use the word counsel – we‟re not counsellors.” She further
demarcates her duties by insisting “I‟m not a psychologist” even though she has received the
training and uses counselling techniques, albeit informally. This careful demarcation between
chaplain, counsellor and psychologist might arise from a perceived overlap in the duties with
other treatment personnel. Thus, while some chaplains are qualified and engage inmates in
counselling, others feel their function with inmates is qualitatively different from that of
welfare officers and psychologists.
This arguably places NSW prison chaplaincy in a unique position within Corrective Services
that, as the CCAC (1999) guideline suggests, allows chaplains to “contribute to the
individual‟s recovery”, where the official roles of worship, counselling and pastoral care can
all be encompassed within an overarching ideology of prisoner rehabilitation. Although by
law, chaplains are employed to foster personal religious freedoms, it can be argued that prison
chaplaincy‟s most significant contribution within NSW corrections is that it offers the
possibility of alternative rehabilitation frameworks. Through what the CCAC deems the
development of “individual moral and spiritual values,” chaplains are envisioned to present
the option of an „alternative lifestyle‟ from that of prison culture (CCAC, 1999). Chaplaincy
achieves this by filling in the gaps the rest of the system cannot reach and overlooks – or as
Ian puts it, chaplaincy works in the “in-between spaces”:
... it‟s what happens in the in-between spaces that incredible things happen
because […] we‟re not trying to be psychologists – we may draw upon some of
the skills required there. We‟re not trying to be welfare, although we do welfare
as well. But I think what one of our strengths is that we‟re not trying to be part
of the institution. We‟re trying to be the human being who‟s leading another
human being, irrespective of whether this person is wearing greens. We try to
engage people as fellow human beings.
Ian‟s view summarises the core belief that many chaplains hold about their work – that
chaplaincy has a unique position in offering inmates something „more‟ than other treatment
staff. Part of that understanding is derived from the knowledge they are not part of the
institution, which in turn, allows them to engage with the „human.‟ As opposed to “being
analysed and scanned” by psychologists, or being a “case” to welfare officers, chaplains can
get to know inmates by name and by their story. It is this humanising presence they bring that
more than half the chaplains believe that is crucial in inmate rehabilitation.
Chaplains’ role in inmate rehabilitation
Before examining the role that chaplains play in inmate rehabilitation, it is first necessary to
understand their support for inmate rehabilitation and punishment. These two themes were
explored through questions based loosely on Sundt and Cullen‟s (2002) rehabilitative and
custodial-punitiveness orientation scales. The researchers operationalised these two
orientations by asking respondents two primary questions: “What, in your opinion, is the main
reason for putting the offender in prison?” and “What do you think is the best way to
rehabilitate offenders?” However, Sundt and Cullen‟s (2002) forced-choice questionnaire
strictly delimited subjects‟ choice of answers. As my research with NSW chaplains revealed,
chaplains‟ answers were often not straightforward. For example when Michael was asked
about his ideas on rehabilitation, he stated he was “not sure if there‟s a best way” to
rehabilitate because “people are different and their needs are different.” Thus in the following
section, chaplains‟ support for rehabilitation is contextualised through their opinions on how
rehabilitation comes about, what the chaplain‟s role is in this process, and his/her patronage of
rehabilitative interventions such as chaplain-initiated programs (bible study, meditation
classes), programs run by faith-based volunteers, and secular programs (as run by the DCS).
Chaplains’ custodial and rehabilitative orientations
When asked what they thought was the main reason why offenders are in prison, chaplains‟
responses substantiate claims that having a rehabilitative orientation does not mean that
chaplains believe incarceration is unnecessary (e.g. Sundt & Cullen, 2002), as some
considered incarceration is a justified form of social control. Darren‟s opinion was that
inmates are in gaol because they are “greedy” and thrill-seeking, and that many of them “have
never grown up...they‟re like boys of 12 and 13”. Thus, he understands prison as “just a
holding place for antisocials.” Richard also saw incarceration as a necessary security measure
because “some people [...] are a risk to community, a risk to themselves.” As such, apart from
serving a functional purpose of keeping dangerous individuals under lock and key,
incarceration is seen in terms of the offender‟s own best interest. Ian further adds: “I‟d go as
far as saying some people have committed crimes who‟ve actually forfeited the right to be
able to re-enter society.” However, it is also Ian view that offenders had not forfeited the right
to experience and know God, and in fact, it was all the more important for those who might
never be released to be able to “function in gaol.” A few chaplains also understood that
punishment had already been dealt, such as Gabbie who feels that “the courts and judges [...]
they‟ve made the judgement” and thus it was not their position to place further judgement on
offenders. Thus, her job was to simply “look after them until they‟ve done their time there.”
Chaplains‟ lack of support for custodial-punitive orientation is further supported by findings
in the previous section, where chaplains reported low perceived job dangerousness, which has
been associated with less punitive attitudes amongst chaplains (e.g. Sundt & Cullen, 2002).
Only one NSW chaplain expressed views similar to what Evans et al. (1995) deemed ‘hell-
fire’ beliefs that understands wrathful God that punishes wrong-doers:
You have done something wrong, you are being punished for it. It‟s better to be
punished in this lifetime, than on the Day of Judgement when you‟ll be thrown
This chaplain‟s view understands prison to be a place where prisoners are meted their
punishment, which supports the hypothesis that „hell-fire’ beliefs result in a more punitive
attitude. However, in this example, being imprisoned „in this lifetime‟ is seen as an
opportunity to compensate for one‟s wrongdoings, relieving one‟s punishment in the
„afterlife.‟ Thus, this chaplain is also of the view that everyone deserves another chance
“provided that he‟s willing to take the chance of repentance.” Views such as those above
further substantiates Sundt & Cullen‟s (2002) conclusion that chaplains are capable of
supporting both treatment and custodial orientations.
How chaplains understand rehabilitation
On par with existing research, virtually all those interviewed reported a strongly rehabilitative
orientation (Sundt et al., 2002; Sundt & Cullen, 2002; Hicks, 2008). Chaplains‟ beliefs that
inmates can be rehabilitated are usually supported by anecdotal evidence from their own
work, as in Greg‟s example:
I‟m really quite optimistic about that. And I‟ve seen people who have made
successful transformations of their life, and have become „normal‟ in the
community instead of constantly tripping up.
Rachel also stresses the importance of faith-based programs, as she has seen “amazing
changes” in the women who do them. However, for successful inmate rehabilitation chaplains
felt there are certain conditions that must be met. For certain Christian chaplains,
rehabilitation involved a discourse of redemption through God. Ian believed that there is
“something of value and dignity to human beings that can be redeemed” because “God created
man in His image.” Richard, when asked whether he thought some inmates were more
„redeemable‟ than others, answered “in a sense,” citing those who close themselves off to
change as very difficult to work with. He added however, that “God is absolutely able to
redeem them” if they were willing. Others did not understand rehabilitation in terms of
„redemption‟ by God, but nonetheless, attributed inmates‟ internal transformations to God, as
seen in Paul‟s understanding:
Seeing blokes change their lives, as they encounter God. And I‟ve seen some
radical changes. [...] I just watch the Holy Spirit at work. But often the changes
I see in men I think, well, I don‟t know where that came from!
Similarly, Richard believes in an internal, eternal change through the supernatural:
We can also look at man reforming himself, but God‟s not into that. But
regeneration, change from within, and that‟s a supernatural work only the Holy
Spirit can do. It‟s an eternal change from heart.
Virtually all chaplains understood inmate rehabilitation in terms of a narrative of
transformation. Most had the view that for lasting change, programs must delve into the
deeper core of the inmate, which is where they understand the fundamental change occurs. For
most Christian chaplains, this was also coupled with the understanding that encountering God
would allow the inmate to become a „new‟ person, like Ian who presents God is an alternative
to a criminal past, from which inmates can break free of, and escape the cycle of recidivism:
That there is Biblical truth of becoming a new person, becoming a new
creation. The past doesn‟t need to shape the present, nor the future. That there
is a way of breaking free from all of this, that‟s brought you to this position.
[...] That there is a way of breaking this cycle of reoffending.
The „transforming‟ abilities of God are further reconfirmed by tangible observations, such as
Fredrick‟s story of an inmate, who, after a “God encounter” recovered from Hepatitis C. In
Fredrick‟s words, this baffed even the medical staff, whom had no logical explanation for his
sudden recovery. Thus for Fredrick, God was also capable of physical transformations in
How Buddhist chaplains understand rehabilitation is also of interest. To Buddhist chaplain
Eun, changes also come “from the heart,” and also have physical manifestations. She believes
that through the practice of Buddhist teachings, the “anger and sad in the[ir] eyes” are
replaced with a more positive quality, and in turn, “the way [they] behave also chang[es].”
Instead of attributing the transformative processes to an external entity however, as Michael
explains, “there is no trans-personal God” in Buddhism. The inner change is thus understood
as an increasing personal awareness, developing a “realisation from ignorance,” such as by no
longer harbouring any delusions. Thus, rehabilitation involved inmates taking personal
responsibility for their own lives to “mov[e] out of suffering” by “breaking the reactive loop”
of cause and consequence.
Inmates’ willingness to change
Interestingly, the understanding that inmates must be internally motivated for change to occur
is shared by all chaplains, regardless of their theological understandings of the rehabilitation
process. Whether rehabilitation efforts are successful is often mentioned in this context of the
inmate‟s willingness to change, a sentiment Rachel shares: “You can give as many programs
as you want. Unless the person is ready to change, there‟s going to be no change.” Inmates
who are “really desiring change” are the ones Richard feels he is most able to help:
If they‟re not willing to change, if they‟re not really wanting help, then you
really can‟t work with them in a sense. Yes, you can attempt to give them some
thoughts, plans, encouragement, but ultimately, they‟ve got the make the
As such, many chaplains, like Richard, see their role as someone who can offer advice and
guidance, but ultimately, the transformation is understood as a decision which only the inmate
themselves can make.
Chaplains‟ understanding of „life-changing‟ decisions amongst inmates is one that draws
parallels to theories of religious conversion where a prolonged “resultant change of life course
and direction” is achieved within a few momentous judgments and decisions that positively
changes a person‟s way of relating to God, others, self, and the world (Lonergan, 1972:130).
However, most chaplains did not believe that „converting‟ was necessary for rehabilitation. As
Helen insists: “I‟m not there to convince people to change their belief – that‟s not my job. I‟m
not there to convert people.” Indeed, within the CCAC, chaplains have “no license to
proselytise” (Moore, R., 2010: pers. comm., 27 April). Some, like Buddhist chaplain Michael,
even actively discourages against conversion, as neither Buddhist chaplain understands
conversion as part of their theological mandate. Instead, most chaplains perceive themselves
as providers of spiritual and practical advice, allowing inmates to make informed decision and
choices about their lives, like Fredrick:
I‟m more concerned with transformation of people, and them being in the
presence of God. And what is my part in it? Firstly to give them the
information, then to work through it in a real way.
Two-third of chaplains, like Philip, also believes that “inmates can only be transformed when
they meet a person” because it is only then do they know how to better themselves as people.”
For some, this emphasis on humanity is informed by Biblical understandings. Paul‟s advice to
“be human” comes from his understanding of “when God wanted to relate to us, He became a
human being.” Darren‟s care and compassion for inmates is driven out of an acceptance that
“they are human beings too” and that ultimately “they are children of God.” Furthermore,
being able to focus on the humanity is crucial to most chaplains when confronted with crimes
Some of the crimes disgust me…child sexual abuse, child murder…I‟ve got to
concentrate on the fact that in front of me is a human being. While they might
have done this horrendous thing, he has particular needs.
Therefore, for many chaplains like Richard, it is “very important not to focus on the charges,”
because it is only then that they are able to look beyond the crime to provide care to the
human being. Similarly, chaplains also endeavour to show to inmates love, care and
compassion, even though as Ian admits, it can difficult to “lov[e] the unlovable.” Again, some
chaplains like Richard are informed by their religious beliefs when interacting with prisoners:
“I‟m there extending grace and showing Christ‟s love to others [...] whether I personally don‟t
like them, or I don‟t like their behaviour or criminality, or whatever doesn‟t come into it.”
Being loved is also understood by chaplains as a basic human need that inmates are deprived
of. In fact, for some inmates, meeting prison chaplains and volunteers from faith-based
organisations was “the first time they can hear of God‟s love to them”. Many chaplains
hearing inmates say unprecedentedly: “wow, I‟ve been loved unconditionally” and “these
people seriously care.” Darren for example, believes that he “make[s] a difference in their
lives” through the “unconditional love” that he endeavours to show inmates. For nearly all
chaplains, showing love is such an important part of relating with inmates because the
experience of being loved is seen as a transforming force. For certain chaplains, they feel they
are a „messenger‟ through which God‟s love can be expressed, such as Richard who feels like
he is “presenting to them, from the bible, God‟s love, His plan for them, and His way where
they can be set free inside.” Irene recounts the example of a highly-strung, anxious inmate,
whose, in her words, “life just changed” when she told him “God loves you.” Stories such as
this reinforced chaplains‟ beliefs that the unconditional care and love they extended had
visible results in the form of behavioural and attitudinal changes within inmates.
Another avenue through which inmates may experience feelings of love and acceptance are
religious programs run by faith-based organisations (FBOs), which are just one of three types
of programs full-time chaplains are expected to coordinate or initiate, the other two being
DCS and religious education programs (CCAC, 1999). The majority of FBO programs are
non-denominational Christian, such as Kairos and Prison Fellowship Australia (PFA) that
endeavour to “bring Christ‟s love and forgiveness to all incarcerated individuals” and
“demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ for all people” respectively (Kairos, 2007; PFA, 2008).
Though completely voluntary, chaplains report these programs as popular with inmates
because of benefits such as non-prison food, and a break from the monotony of prison life.
Notwithstanding inmates‟ initial intentions for joining, many chaplains report positive
behavioural and attitudinal changes in inmates. Rachel recalls a shy inmate with extremely
low self-esteem who “blossomed” only after a 3-day Kairos program, so much so that the
psychologist expressed to Rachel “this is impossible!”
According to Fredrick, the effectiveness of FBO programs such as Kairos derives from the
fact that they allow inmates another opportunity to encounter God:
… in the encounter, they experience the love of God. [...] Something happens
in the belonging, the acceptance, you‟re not judged, you‟re able to be yourself.
So the empowering presence of God is the encounter that sparks or triggers the
Fredrick sees encountering God is an empowering and transforming experience, wherein
inmates feel accepted by representatives of the Christian community, and by extension, the
wider community. Ian agrees that the opportunity to experience community with people
beyond the prison system is “therapeutic,” as they “represent the community that they have
committed crimes against.” Meeting volunteers can also foster “trust” and “build
relationships,” as well as be an opportunity to consider a “different approach to life” – that is,
volunteers are seen to be examples of an alternative, crime-free lifestyle.
Chaplains are also responsible for running „education programs‟ such as bible study,
meditation and marriage enrichment groups, with the aim of “education in values” (CCAC,
1999). Reception for these has been mixed. Paul runs several bible study sessions throughout
the week, with the aim “to help the inmates to think through...if they claim to be
Christian...what does the Bible say about behaviour.” In this example, the Bible is utilised by
Paul almost as a reference book for how one should act. Other chaplains report little success
such sessions, claiming they “wax and wane” and another reporting they “never ever
work...we‟ve tried them...they‟re not interested.” In running these programs, chaplains often
find themselves having to tailor existing religious resources to cater to the high levels of
illiteracy amongst the prison population, such as having to source religious DVDs and CDs for
inmates, as well as adapting study materials for inmates, something Gabbie, the Aboriginal
chaplain does: “I find that the majority of [study programs] I have to rewrite because the guys
are illiterate. And they‟re presupposing people have the literacy skills.” She also observes that
“a lot of programs are far too long,” and thus takes it upon herself to modify them so that
inmates feel “a little bit more success in them quicker.”
When asked how it is decided which faith-based programs are run, chaplains vary in
approach. Most chaplains are respectful and sensitive to the needs of inmates, so whilst Paul
admits “I usually decide what we‟re doing” he is also “open to meeting other needs.” Ian gives
the example of forming a fathering course when a few fathers expressed interest, as he
chooses programs depending on “what‟s happening at the particular time regarding the needs
of inmates.” Rachel, who is highly supportive of inmate-driven initiatives takes a more
facilitative approach: “I get a little group together and say „Hey, what do you reckon?‟” Her
reasoning is that “if you throw on a program and expect people to come, they won‟t.” Instead,
Rachel finds the secret to a program‟s success is where inmates “own it” and “claim it” for
themselves – her understanding is that self-initiated programs empower inmates, and let them
take responsibility for their own lives.
Chaplains are also expected to involve themselves in what CSNSW classifies as „evidence-
based accredited programs‟ which includes programs related to alcohol and other drugs,
sexual offending, violent offending, cognitive skills and community engagement (CSNSW,
2008-09). For example, Ian and Gabbie facilitates „Hey Dad!‟, a community engagement
course that targets Aboriginal dads and uncles separated from their children (CSNSW, 2008-
09). A number of chaplains, like Rachel, run „Seasons for Growth,‟ which was originally
developed as a faith-based „readiness program‟ which deals with grief and loss. According to
her, it is “an amazing program” but when it was adapted by Corrective Services, it “lost a lot
of its „oomph‟” because the spiritual component was omitted. She thought that such programs
lacked something that faith-based ones do: “faith-based programs gives so much more
because they‟ve got a „depth‟ – there‟s a depth based on love. It‟s genuine concern.”
Thus, it was unsurprising that views on secular rehabilitation programs were mixed. Many
chaplains felt that secular programs often do not initiate change as well as faith-based ones
because they do not deal with the whole person. A few chaplains further admitted to not
knowing much about them, while another few were sceptical as to their effectiveness. Of drug
and alcohol programs, Michael deemed it “tokenism at its worse” and claims “you‟d be lucky
to find a correlation” between spending on drug and alcohol programs and rehabilitation.
Philip thinks some programs are “really fantastic,” yet remains critical of how they are used to
gauge how „rehabilitated‟ an individual is, as “sometimes it gets to the stage where the more
programs you do, they think the more reformed you are.” Darren also questions their efficacy,
as he thinks that inmates consider them “mind games.” This view may be supported by the
fact that some programs are mandatory for certain inmates, and must be completed for them to
be considered for parole, meaning inmates still attend even with no intention of learning or
desiring change. Finally, a few chaplains feel that the root causes of an inmates‟ crime goes
beyond what a correctional program can address. Darren cites inmates with substance abuse
problems as “very, very hard” to change:
People who are alcoholic [and] people who are addicted to the recreational
drugs are just addicted. And the big thing, why they are there – they just lack
self-discipline [...] But then when they leave, back they go to the lack of
Darren‟s understanding sees the addiction of drugs and alcohol too difficult to overcome by
drug awareness courses alone. A few chaplains were more positive about Correctional
Services‟ programs, and have seen inmates come through and break their drug habit.
However, these cases are understood as exceptions, as many of them return to custody soon
after release. The failure of such programs seems to be due to the lack of “follow through”
once the inmates return to their communities where they may fall victim to their drug habit
again. Ironically, according to Irene, “it‟s the worst thing they can do, going back to their
communities.” Thus, many chaplains, like Ian, have expressed the importance of
“throughcare,” which is assisting inmates‟ reintegration back into their communities upon
An alternative view of rehabilitation
In most criminal justice systems, the efficacy of rehabilitative interventions is most frequently
measured by recidivism rates and number of prison infractions (Fischer, 2003). However, it
has been argued that non-profit organisations that exist specifically to provide services that
cannot be easily or economically measured (Wuthnow et al., 2004). Arguably, the intangible
chaplaincy services offered to inmates – the love and care, listening to inmates, giving them
spiritual guidance and hope – are all things that chaplains believe contribute to the
rehabilitation of an inmate, yet cannot be empirically measured. In fact, most chaplains like
Richard think of themselves as “planting a seed” within the inmate, and acknowledge it is
unlikely to see the results of their efforts anytime soon.
Ian offered an alternative view of gauging intervention effectiveness, suggesting that a 100%
success rate from any program would be “unrealistic.” Instead, after leaving that program,
“not returning to custody for 2 or 3 years” should already be considered successful. For
Rachel, who referred to a „thank you‟ card sent by an inmate: “I hated being here, I now hate
leaving. Who would‟ve thought you would find such infinite goodness in a place like prison.”
She added: “That to me is rehabilitation.” Since chaplains are often unable to see the fruits of
their labour, they also understand the process of rehabilitation to be a long one, like Greg who
is in it “for the long-haul,” and Ian who realises “whether [chaplaincy] has a lasting impact,
time will only tell.”
The understandings of rehabilitation by NSW chaplains are in fact very closely aligned to
theories within desistance research, which attempts to identify factors contributing towards a
“long-term abstinence from crime” (Maruna, 2001: 26). However, unlike criminological
theories that have been moving away from conceptualising desistance as a „turning point‟ or
„moment of clarity‟ wherein offenders decide to leave their criminal lives behind them,
chaplains understand rehabilitation both as a “decision to turn” as per Helen‟s understanding
that is largely attributed to God, and simultaneously, as a process of “maintenance” (Maruna,
2001: 23) that extends beyond the prison walls. By helping to explain the „mysteries of life‟
(Clear & Myhre, 1995), religious conversion has drawn parallels with this maintenance
process. Conversion theories also agree that change does not happen as a single event, but the
influence of religion is understood as an ongoing and deepening process of faith (Lonergan,
1972). For chaplains in this sample however, the process of rehabilitation does not necessarily
involve „conversion,‟ as they did not see themselves in the position to unduly influence
inmates‟ religious choices. Instead, chaplains took upon the role of giving spiritual and
practical advice, understanding the decision to „turn‟ is one only inmates can make for
themselves. Recognising inmates as active agents who live lives of their own making is a view
supported by Adams (1997: 334) who considers criminal reform a form of “self-initiated
socialization” wherein long-term abstinence from criminal behaviour is not passive, but
involves “significant participation by the offender” who acts as their own agent of change
(Adams, 1997: 335).
To conclude this chapter, the custodial and rehabilitative orientations of NSW chaplains are
similar to their U.S. counterparts in that they are strongly supportive of rehabilitation. Unlike
chaplains in the U.S. however, NSW chaplains experienced very little role conflict between
their rehabilitative and custodial orientations. This is most likely explained by the fact that
chaplains are not employees of the system and have no direct custodial responsibility over
inmates, apart from issues of security, thus freeing chaplains to interpret their function as
more closely aligned to rehabilitation. Since role conflict is a predictor of job dissatisfaction
and has been associated with life stress amongst prison chaplains (Sundt, 1997: 289), these
findings might also explains why NSW chaplains have reported low levels of stress in general,
and seem to be quite content with their jobs. Moreover, chaplains with a rehabilitative
orientation – a view virtually all interviewed chaplains shared – are also more likely to find
their work satisfying (Sundt, 1997).
For most chaplains, the place where they felt their greatest potential and contributions lies is
with those roles and functions not made explicit in their job description – to extend
humanness, to show love and care, and just „being available.‟ Being in the position to listen to
the story of the inmate is perhaps one of the most valuable contributions chaplaincy can make
towards inmate rehabilitation. Positioned historically as deviant subjects, prisoners, in
Foucauldian terms are „unfit to speak‟ (Foucault, 1961/2005). Chaplains are therefore perhaps
the only people in the criminal justice system who are willing to listen and consider prisoners
as individuals who are “deciding, shaping human being[s] who aspir[e] to be the author of
his/her life” (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002: 22).
Finally, chaplains did not see themselves as „saving‟ people, or having the answers, but saw
their main role as providing pastoral care and counselling, giving inmates the time and
attention that others in the system – prison officers, welfare workers, psychologists – are not
in the position to give. More importantly, chaplains actively encourage prisoners to tell their
„story,‟ which is both therapeutic and empowering. They move and fill the „in-between
spaces,‟ resulting in a holistic, person-based approach to rehabilitation, which is perhaps their
biggest contribution to a criminal justice system which is characterized by numbers, statistics,
and a „one-size fits all‟ approach.
4.3 Multi-faith chaplaincy
Prisons create a unique situation wherein people of different faiths are housed together at
close quarters, increasing inter-faith interaction compared to the outside world (Beckford,
2001). The salience of religion in prison has the effect of heightening religious differences,
not only amongst inmates, but arguably between chaplains and inmates, and between
chaplains as well. As stated in the CCAC & NSWDCS MOU, full-time chaplains are required
to be „facilitators‟ of all religions, including those they do not represent, resulting in what
Beckford & Gilliat (1998) calls a „brokerage‟ system. In this chapter, the ways in which full-
time, usually Christian, chaplains position themselves in relation to minority faith inmates and
chaplains will be explored, with particular emphasis on how this manifests in the form of
differential access by Christian chaplains to inmates of minority religious faiths, the
distribution and utilisation of religious resources such as the prison chapel by minority faith
chaplains, as well as the ways in which potential theological differences are negotiated
between and among chaplains and inmates of different faith traditions.
Working as a team
The importance of working as a „team‟ is frequently mentioned by chaplains, especially in
correctional facilities with multiple full-time, part-time and sessional chaplains. Despite the
variety of denominations and faiths represented, Rachel reports little conflict between
colleagues, as “everybody is used to working as a team.” While chaplains are aware of their
theological differences, they “endeavour to get on well” because as Ian understands, “we‟re all
trying to do something broader – we are trying to do something good, help people at a critical
time in their lives.” This broader sense of „doing good‟ is an overarching aim shared by all,
allowing chaplains to overlook their individual differences. To further strengthen
communication, some chaplaincies utilise a „communication book,‟ or emails for important
notices. One full-time Christian chaplain, however, admits to not knowing the work schedule
of his part-time and sessional colleagues: “The Imam comes in when he feels like it, and I
don‟t even know when he‟s here.” This was not an expression of religious disrespect, but does
reveal that miscommunication may occur between full-time chaplains and their sesssional
colleagues due to conflicting schedules, and even language barriers, as many sessionals like
Muslim chaplain Amir, and Buddhist chaplain Eun, come from non-English speaking
Facilitation of minority faiths
As stated in the MOU, full-time chaplains are responsible for meeting the needs of all
prisoners, including those of minority faiths. Due to their status, full-time chaplains often bear
the responsibility of liaising with part-time chaplains, religious organisations and religious
visitors, as well as Departmental administration and committees (CCAC, 1999). Gabbie, an
Anglican chaplain, recalled the lack of religious representation for Muslim and Buddhist
inmates at her facility, and actively encouraged chaplains from both groups to visit. Greg, a
full-time Anglican who has “no worry about working with anybody,” gives the example of
visiting a Sikh centre on behalf of a Sikh inmate who wanted religious books, and even
engaged an inmate who considered himself a Satanist in theological discussions.
The term „facilitate‟ is used almost uniformly by all full-time chaplains to describe their
actions towards minority faiths. The ethos behind „facilitation‟ is perhaps better understood in
light of the CCAC (1999) guidelines, which assumes Christianity to be the default religion for
The Christian chaplain is always ready to contact the appropriate religious
leader [...] to ensure religious ministration to followers of all faiths.
Full-time chaplains‟ facilitation duties thus include contacting religious representative on
behalf of inmates with specific religious issues, and arranging an official religious visit. This
arrangement however, results in a situation where minority faiths inmates, especially those not
represented by the CCAC, are fully dependent on full-time chaplains to access religious
personnel or articles. Full-time Anglican chaplain Paul insists:
I am the chaplain of the gaol. So my role is not just to preach Christianity, it‟s
to facilitate people‟s religious activity [...] because I‟m there full time, if a
Muslim inmate arrives at the gaol, hasn‟t got a prayer mat, I can provide one
Official religious visitors also depend on full-time chaplains to not only access inmates, but
also the chapel in correctional centres. On the whole, they diligently ensure access to all
inmates and chaplains of all faiths, such as Gabbie who opened the chapel for Muslim inmates
to run their own Friday prayers when there was no visiting Imam, and Rachel, who ensures
the chapel is “available as possible” when minority faith chaplains visit. Yet, though the
chapel is considered a “neutral” sacred space, by virtue of their full-time status, Christian
chaplains appear to have authority over who accesses the chapel, and how it may be used. At
one particular facility, the chapel has visible symbols representing the Buddhist, Islamic and
Christian faiths, and is thus seen as “multi-faith.” Nonetheless, a minority faith chaplain
commented on what he felt was a “sense of ownership” by Christian chaplains:
Although they‟re very tolerant and accepting and encouraging, in fact, they
own it. Because they‟ve got the numbers and the money [...] they call the shots.
The dominance of Christian chaplaincy is also supported by the administration of
certain prisons, like Buddhist chaplain Michael‟s, where “the nun is regarded as the
boss, that‟s because, that‟s how the warders and the governor sees it.”
Since 90% of chaplaincy positions are Catholic, Anglican, or other Christian denominations
(Moore, R., 2010: pers. comm., 27 April), all full-time chaplains generally understand their
roles as unproblematic facilitators within an encompassing Christian narrative. For example,
when asked how they interact with inmates from other faiths, potential theological differences
were rationalised by Christian chaplains in interesting ways. So whilst a full-time Anglican
chaplain enthused about „inter-faith‟ activities at her correctional centre:
...we‟re doing some inter-faith work [...] This coming week for a group that‟s
mixed – half Christian, half Buddhist. And we will do a meditation session
At the same time, a Buddhist chaplain felt important religious distinctions were at times
And the Christians say, oh, we do meditation too. But they don‟t know what
Buddhist meditation is.
Religious differences were also downplayed in other ways. For example, three Christian
chaplains conceptualised Muslim inmates as “people of the Book,” who share similar roots in
“the same God of Abraham.” Similarly, these chaplains found little conflict with Buddhists
because “they‟re very open to whatever.” Such ideological manoeuvres allow them to redefine
other religions as similar (in the case of Islam), or at least not in direct theological conflict (in
the case of Buddhism). Such rationalisations seemingly break down the „us‟ (our faith) and
„them‟ (other faiths) distinction with the evaluation that “they‟re just like us after all” (Gross,
1991: 357). While this approach may be recognised as a positive attempt at reconciling
potential differences, this Christian-centric lens views members of other religions as
„anonymous Christians‟ (Rahner, 1980) who share „our‟ world and „our‟ values, even if „they‟
are unaware of it – a position that, according to Gross (1991: 358), simply “elevates one
religion above the others as superior,” and does not allow for genuine religious pluralism.
While potential religious conflicts are mitigated, there exists a danger if minority faith
requests and points of view are glossed over, or misrepresented, within an all-encompassing
Christian framework of service delivery.
Full-time NSW chaplains at present are not required to study faiths other than their own. Nor
was this considered problematic, as they usually refer to past experience as knowledge
enough. This was reflected by Rachel who, as an ex-youth worker frequently came into
contact with Muslim boys in her community, and Paul, who studied Islam as part of his
degree, and learned about Shintoism and Buddhism from living in Japan for a number of
years. When asked what he thought of a „multi-faith awareness course,‟ Paul hinted at its
improbability, as being employees of their respective religious organisations, the CCAC was
not in a position to “enforce us to do it.”
‘Facilitation’ or ‘brokerage’?
The stance of CCAC is analogous to that of the Prison Service Chaplaincy (PSC) of England
and Wales where the Anglican chaplains are “established in law” – that is, legally required to
take responsibility for indirectly overseeing the religious, spiritual and pastoral well-being of
all inmates, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof (Beckford, 2001: 373). The
„ownership‟ situation of chaplaincy in NSW might be comparable to what Beckford (2001:
281) describes as a „brokerage‟ model of chaplaincy wherein “access to prisons and to
prisoners is still „brokered‟ by Christian chaplains who act as literal and figurative gate-
keepers for Visiting Ministers,” such that “the chaplaincy system makes other faiths
dependent on Christian chaplains” (Beckford, 1999: 657).
Beckford and Gilliat (1998) differentiate between „facilitation‟ and „brokerage‟. Facilitation
refers to “negotiating with prison authorities for better resources and/or opportunities for
members of other faith communities to practice their religion in prison,” while „brokerage‟
…acting on behalf of minority religious groups as a go-between with prison
authorities, perhaps advocating the appointment of visiting ministers or
negotiating recognition of religious dietary requirements or of new religious
festival dates. (Beckford, 1999: 678)
In other words, to act as a „broker‟ is to intermediate between two parties (Beckford & Gilliat,
1998), which very much describes Gabbie‟s role in advocating Muslim and Buddhist
chaplains to visit inmates, and what Paul has been doing for his facility:
...there used to be a Buddhist nun coming in once a week – she stopped. So the
Buddhists have no visitor now. So I‟ve been trying to advocate a little bit for
them to see whether there‟s any Buddhist who might want to come.
While NSW chaplains refer to „facilitation‟ and „advocacy,‟ the role many full-time chaplains
in NSW seem to have taken onboard is „brokering‟ for minority faiths. Although „brokerage‟
is a contentious term with devaluing connotations of work that is done „contractually,‟
Beckford and Gilliat‟s (1998: 15) definition does not seek to diminish the „goodwill‟ and
„self-sacrifice‟ on part of Christian chaplains who perform this function.
Interestingly, as with the UK example, minority faith chaplains in NSW seem content with
this arrangement, and are happy for full-time chaplains to distribute religious articles on their
behalf. Sessional Muslim chaplain Amir leaves it up to the discretion of the full-time chaplain
to determine the appropriateness of Muslim CDs and DVDs brought in by friends and family
for Islamic inmates: “Tell your visitors when they come visit you, to bring and give it to the
[full-time] chaplain. If the chaplain has any doubt, he‟ll ask me.”
Thus, even though religious minorities in the UK are subjected to a “systematic inequality”
that makes them dependent on Christian chaplains, most chaplains, even those representing
minority faiths seem content, or “at least resigned” to the status quo, a situation Beckford
(1999:675) describes as “puzzling.” Similarly, in this sample, apart from one opinionated
chaplain, this was not an issue to either Christian or minority faith chaplains. When asked his
opinion on the comparably few Muslim chaplains in the CCAC, Amir did not hold others
responsible, insisting “we are to be blamed for not providing so many chaplains” and that it
was the Muslim Council‟s responsibility to rectify this. Buddhist chaplain Eun,
acknowledging the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future, even encourages
inmates to attend programs run by other faiths: “...we are a new religion in Western countries,
so financially we are not so strong. We cannot give any social benefits to them.”
The reason for this complacency, Beckford (1999) suggests, is twofold – minority faiths, who
are considered „outsiders‟ in the system (or in the case of NSW, relative „newcomers‟) would
rather have Christian chaplains advocate for them, than not be heard at all. For Christian
chaplains, the motivations are obvious, as it reinforces their “ascendancy” over prison
chaplaincy (Beckford, 1999: 678). Beckford summarises this situation as one of “limited,
conditional and brokered integration” of non-Christian practices into the system:
...other faiths are permitted to operate in prisons only on condition that they
comply with regimes devised, monitored and managed exclusively by Christian
chaplain in consultation with Prison Service managers (2001: 380).
In addition, visiting chaplains in the UK are rarely involved in consultations regarding
chaplaincy policies, and most feel excluded from what Christian chaplains call „chaplaincy
teams‟ (Beckford, 2001: 380).
I would like to suggest that in NSW, the dominance of Christian chaplains is not as far-
reaching as in the UK, possibly because Christian chaplains are not “established in law” to
shoulder the responsibility of religious expression for all inmates. The emphasis placed on
teamwork by all interviewees suggests minority faith chaplains are regarded as part of
„chaplaincy teams,‟ despite their dependence on full-time chaplains for inmate and chapel
access. Further, the CCAC holds bi-monthly meetings where all NSW chaplains, regardless of
employment status or religious affiliation, can contribute where policies are discussed. While
this may be the case, undeniably it still remains that the majority of chaplains are Christian.
As one chaplain duly noted earlier, the resources and funding afforded to Christian chaplains
creates a situation where they „call the shots‟ – such that it would be difficult to consider any
decisions made within the CCAC to be truly „democratic.‟ The decision to appoint 90% of
chaplains to be of a Christian denomination, all of whom (apart from one Muslim) are also
full-time chaplains does speak of institutionalised structural inequalities within the
Growing numbers of inmates who are members of faiths other than Christianity increasingly
highlights the model‟s obsolescence. While all chaplains are respectful (or at least tolerant) of
religious differences, whether requests from minority faith inmates are acted upon still
remains at the discretion of the full-time chaplains. Assigning full-time (mostly Christian)
chaplains as responsible for the religious expression and pastoral well being of all inmates,
and duty as „gatekeeper‟ and „broker‟ creates the weighty responsibility of ensuring the equal
expression of religious beliefs for inmates of all faiths.
If full-time chaplains are expected to extend pastoral care and facilitate the religious
experiences of all inmates, this research reveals that religious literacy about minority religious
faiths should be increased. This would not only ensure equal access to religious freedom for
an increasingly religiously-pluralistic body of inmates, but would also move towards the
model of „genuine pluralism‟ that Gross (1991) envisions, where religious leaders are “fully
aware of genuine differences among the world's religions” and express a “deep and
thoroughgoing appreciation” of religious worldviews and value systems. In the US, for
example, chaplains are not employed to represent their faiths, but only as members of staff
“who happen to be Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, etc.” (US Department of Justice,
1995: B-1). Interestingly enough, while there are no mandatory „multi-faith education‟ courses
for all chaplains, prospective Muslim chaplains are actually required to complete twelve
courses in general Judeo-Christian theology, even though Christian chaplains are not required
to study the traditions of other faith groups (Beckford & Gilliat, 1998). The underlying
assumption is that Muslim applicants will have insufficient knowledge of the Judeo-Christian
tradition, while Christian chaplains‟ lack of „other faith‟ training remains unquestioned
(Beckford & Gilliat, 1998).
Within countries with increasingly diverse religious demographics such as the US and
Australia, the Christian narrative can no longer be considered „all-encompassing‟ within
chaplaincy. If chaplaincy in NSW is to remain relevant in the long-term, it must re-evaluate its
current „brokerage‟ model to ensure the delivery of chaplaincy services are meeting the needs
of all inmates, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Part 5. Discussion and Conclusions
The paucity of prison chaplaincy literature in Australia prompted this research into the role of
prison chaplains in the NSW correctional system. Following Sundt and Cullen‟s (1998; 2002)
application of the „Individual experiences-Importation‟ and „Work Role-Prisonization‟ models
to prison chaplaincy, I expanded upon their predominantly empirical findings by utilising
qualitative research methods to better understand how the individual variables that affect
chaplains‟ support for custodial and rehabilitation orientations translate into the performance
of their role. Through my interviews, I was able to articulate chaplains‟ complex views on
punishment and rehabilitation, and the ways in which their understanding of the rehabilitation
process shaped the understanding of their roles. In addition, to place prison chaplaincy within
a broader context, I drew upon role theory to demonstrate the ways in which social structures
and limitations within the prison environment shape the prison chaplains‟ role set, and in turn,
influence the understanding of their role.
Although this thesis did not set out to test the explanatory power of the „Individual
experiences-Importation‟ and „Work Role-Prisonization‟ models, my research does provide
additional insight into the application of these to prison chaplaincy research. The only
individual-level variable from the „Individual experiences-Importation‟ model that I examined
– chaplains‟ religious beliefs – did not seem to correspond to any particular patterns of support
for punishment or rehabilitation. In fact, many chaplains held seemingly contradictory views
of both punishment and rehabilitation, which further substantiates the finding that chaplains
are capable of supporting both custody and inmate rehabilitation (Sundt & Cullen, 2002).
More significantly however, my research demonstrates just how complex chaplains‟ views are
toward punishment and rehabilitation, and are by no means expressed uniformly amongst
The „Work Role-Prisonization‟ model, which sought to explore chaplains‟ occupation
socialisation, and social relations within their work place, has proved more fruitful in
application. I was able to conceptualise how chaplains‟ support for custody and rehabilitation
was shaped by their work roles, and in turn, how their work roles were shaped by their
interactions with inmates, prison staff and other chaplains. To begin with, my study supports
Sundt‟s (1997) conclusion that despite concerns that the marginalisation of religion in
contemporary correctional systems resulted in increased ambiguity of chaplaincy‟s role, there
is little evidence this is the case. Role problems were indeed found within the chaplains‟ role
set, however my research also revealed creative methods that chaplains‟ utilised, such as „role
fusion‟, in order to achieve harmony amongst their roles.
Being a prison chaplain in NSW
It is noteworthy that contrary to existing accounts of prison chaplaincy that place a heavy
emphasis on „divine calling‟ to chaplains‟ understanding of prison work (e.g. Sundt & Cullen;
2002; Hicks, 2008), it did not emerge as a prominent theme amongst my sample. Furthermore,
of those who did feel „called,‟ this was experienced at varying magnitudes. The most plausible
explanation for why my findings stray significantly from existing findings is that this research
is one of the first that has sought to articulate the reasons for non-Christian chaplains to
engage in prison work. Buddhist theology, for example, does not involve a trans-personal God
to whom a „calling‟ may be attributed. Similarly, the Muslim chaplain did not consider
„calling‟ as part of his understanding of Islam. However, this does not explain why many
Christian chaplains, for whom a „divine‟ calling is supposed to be a prominent theme (e.g.
Blohm, 2005; Zikmund et al., 1998) did not experience such an event. It could be possible that
as per Blohm‟s (2005) suggestion, the narrative of „calling‟ is culturally specific – he reported
„calling‟ was a prominent narrative amongst Christian clergy in the UK and US, but not for
European clergy. Whilst the findings from this study may not be representative of the clergy
community in general, the results nevertheless imply that broader social factors are capable of
shaping an individual-level experience as personal as a “calling” to prison chaplaincy. My
findings also suggest that the existing Christian-centric research on prison chaplaincy has
resulted in an overly narrow definition of „calling‟ as one that involves God, as broader
definitions offered by organisational psychology in fact bears striking resemblance to the path
Buddhist chaplain Michaels took into chaplaincy. It is clear that the next step of research
should focus on the vocational understandings of non-Christian chaplains.
Upon entering prison work, the biggest occupational adaptation chaplains underwent was in
recognising the power of COs and prison administration to control access to inmates. Having
to adhere to security protocol was a source of role strain for chaplains, as their intentions to
work with inmates were occasionally thwarted when their access was denied. Chaplains were
often not “in a position to argue” with COs, even if they thought officers were deliberately
abusing their authority. Their jobs are further made difficult as certain prisons upheld an
occupational culture that looked down upon the efforts of prison chaplaincy with scepticism.
According to Stryker and Macke (1978) social interaction can be a constructive and creative
force – through the negotiation of power with COs and prison administration over access and
security issues, chaplains engaged in a “creative effort to alter the character of expectations”
(Stryker 1980:75). In my sample, chaplains‟ „creative effort‟ led to role fusion (Hicks, 2008),
integrating the conflicting pastoral care roles of inmate and officers into a new role identity –
that is, as provider of pastoral care to the facility as a whole. Further, by prioritizing their role
in adhering to security protocol, chaplains were able to achieve role harmony (Lois, 2006).
Chaplains’ role in inmate rehabilitation
Since perceived job dangerousness and role problems, both of which have been related to the
custodial-punitive orientation, were both reported at low levels, my results strongly suggest
that chaplains overall were unlikely to support punishment. As my in-depth interviews
demonstrated however, support for incarceration is not simply equated to support for
punishment. Apart from fulfilling the social function of keeping dangerous individuals away
from society, for some chaplains, incarceration was understood as in the offender‟s best
Despite this, the overwhelming majority of chaplains demonstrated a strong support for
inmate rehabilitation. Chaplains did not see themselves as simply performing the duties of
worship and ritual, pastoral care and counselling to fulfil the rights of prisoners to practise
their religion, but believed that all their interactions with inmates were directed towards their
well-being. Thus chaplains hope that these efforts will contribute toward the changed
behaviour of inmates from anti-social to more pro-social attitudes and behaviours.
Inmate change was understood to occur through a narrative of transformation, yet how
chaplains understood this transformation was far from uniform. Christian chaplains often
attributed the source of transformation to God, which for some involved a narrative of
„redemption.‟ Others emphasised the importance of encountering God. Interestingly, how the
Buddhist chaplains understood the process of transformation was not too unlike that of their
colleagues, as they also stressed the transformation narrative. The main difference was that the
Buddhist understanding did not involve a „trans-personal God.‟ These findings however are at
best preliminary, which again points to the need to further understand how chaplains from
non-Christian faiths understand the rehabilitation process, as this will shape the way they
approach their work.
The general consensus amongst chaplains however, was that for rehabilitation to occur, the
desire to change must be self-initiated by inmates. This in turn shaped chaplains‟ rehabilitative
efforts, characterised by guidance and facilitation, as opposed to „converting‟ inmates. In fact,
although „religious conversion‟ draws parallels to most chaplains‟ understanding of
rehabilitation as involving a prolonged positive change in one‟s life course, it was certainly
not seen as a necessary condition for inmates‟ transformation. What is essential, however, is
being a humanising presence, with two-thirds of chaplains mentioning the importance of
relating to inmates as humans, and not defining them by their crime. In fact, seeing past the
crime to the „human‟ was part of how chaplains dealt with the „disgust‟ they felt when
learning about the crimes that the inmate had committed. Again, this notion of „humanness‟
was informed by Biblical understandings for Christian chaplains, while others recognised a
basic human worth that is undiminished by their crime.
Their understanding of the need to deal with the inmate holistically for successful
rehabilitation is reflected in their mixed support for rehabilitation programs. DCS-run
programs, though acknowledged to target certain dysfunctional behaviours such as drug
abuse, were understood by chaplains as merely treating the symptom, and not addressing
deeper root causes such as childhood wounding and abuse. On the other hand, faith-based
programs run by FBOs received more support by chaplains overall, especially as they
understood these to be another opportunity for inmates to experience God, feel acceptance and
unconditional love. Meeting volunteers was also seen as a chance for inmates to be exposed to
an alternative, pro-social lifestyle that does not involve crime.
Chaplains’ role in negotiating religious diversity
Prisons can be understood as places where religious differences are heightened (Beckford,
2001), posing a challenge, in particular, to full-time chaplains who are required to foster the
religious expression of all inmates, regardless of faith background. This meant that full-time
chaplains were required to navigate potential theological differences, not only between
themselves and inmates, but also with colleagues who represent minority faiths. Full-time
chaplains, 90% of whom represent various Christian denominations, are expected to
„facilitate‟ all faiths, which meant this facilitation took place within an all-encompassing
Christian understanding. Within Australia‟s backdrop of growing religious diversity efforts
must be made towards religious respect amongst chaplains, as it has important implications
for equal access to religious care. Lack of knowledge about other faiths can translate into
“stereotypical impressions” that might lead to “increased feelings of superiority” (Gross,
1991). This has the potential to see requests from minority groups go unheard, or mis-
Policy implications and priorities for future research
From my findings, three main policy suggestions can be derived – the need for prison
chaplaincy to remain independent, an increased focus on rehabilitative interventions to have a
more multi-disciplinary approach, and greater religious literacy amongst prison chaplains of
Since its establishment, the CCAC has remained a body independent from the Correctional
Services NSW, a stance also supported by the findings of The Nagle Royal Commission. The
findings from this study further demonstrate the importance of chaplaincy‟s autonomy from
the Correctional Services system. Seeing themselves being perceived by inmates as one of the
few „quasi-independent‟ forces within the system allows trusting, human relationships to be
developed between inmates and chaplains, which chaplains believe are crucial to inmate
Also expressed by many chaplains is the need to approach rehabilitation with a more holistic
approach. As displayed by their insistence on knowing the story behind the crime, chaplains
understand paths into crime to be a “phenomenon without a unitary cause or origin” (Halsey,
2006: 172). Neither FBO programs, other religious interventions, nor DCS-run „evidence-
based accredited programs‟ alone are seen as adequate in inducing lasting change in inmates.
Interventions should not cease upon release either – the 44% recidivism rate in NSW only
strengthens suggestions from chaplains that much more post-release support is needed, and the
need for chaplaincy to be more officially recognised as part of the „throughcare‟ agenda of
NSW Corrective Services – the “co-ordinated, integrated and collaborative approach to
reducing the risks of re-offending” (NSWDCS, 2008).
Finally, the increasing number of non-Christian inmates, and indeed, those not affiliated to
any religion, calls into question the relevancy of the current „brokerage‟ model, which is
arguably, obsolete. Especially in prisons where it is likely for certain minority religious groups
to be overrepresented, chaplains must be more sensitive, and more open to the needs of
inmates belonging to faiths other than their own. While all chaplains are respectful (or at least
tolerant) of religious differences, whether requests from minority faith inmates are acted upon
still remains at the discretion of full-time, Christian chaplains. To ensure equal access to
religious care, the religious literacy of all chaplains should be increased, a move that is seen as
most “effective in fostering attitudes of genuine pluralism” (Gross, 1991). A model can be
adopted from the US, where Muslim chaplains are also required to complete courses in Judeo-
Christian theology (Beckford & Gilliat, 1998). However, the underlying Christian-centric
assumptions of chaplaincies, both in the US and in NSW, in fact calls a more general
„religious appreciation‟ course that should apply to all chaplains.
The themes and narratives emerging from 15 in-depth interviews are by no means
representative of prison chaplaincy situations elsewhere, even within other Australian states,
as each has their own chaplaincy boards and committees. Ironically, upon recruiting a
predominantly Christian sample, my research has also resulted in an understanding of NSW
chaplaincy through a Christian lens – something that I have already identified as a weakness
amongst existing research. The Christian-centeredness of existing prison chaplaincy research
is, I believe, not coincidental – it is most likely that the composition of chaplaincy teams
within most Western criminal justice systems, like Australia, are predominantly Christian.
Finally, although discussed together, it would be a mistake to assume that non-Christian
„minority faiths‟ are unitary or monolithic, but hopefully as my research has shown, is in fact
marked by significant theological differences (Vertovec, 1994). I have only been able to
interview 3 non-Christian chaplains, and thus do not claim that my findings adequately
represent the views of other Buddhist and Muslim chaplains. It does, however, call for more
attention to be paid to minority faith chaplains, who, being positioned as „facilitated‟ and
dependent on full-time chaplains, will presumably face a very different set of role challenges
from their Christian and full-time counterparts.
Chaplaincy in New South Wales has arguably changed little from the days of chaplains as
„soul doctors,‟ valued by their role to “advance central correctional goals” in prisons (Sundt &
Cullen, 1998: 274). The construction of religion as compatible with correctional objectives
however, has seen chaplains adopt a strongly rehabilitative philosophy in their prison work.
While NSW chaplains were divided over the purpose of incarceration, the occupational
consensus among prison chaplains is one of rehabilitation, notwithstanding the occupational
setting, their roles within them, or their work experiences. However, also little changed is the
denominational constitution of the CCAC since its establishment in the 1960s, despite an
expanding immigrant population, whom presumably represent large proportions of individuals
affiliated to minority faiths. For the CCAC to remain relevant in its service delivery, the
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Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999
Appendix A: Sample recruitment e-mail
From Tina Leung <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject Invitation to participate in honours research studying prison chaplaincy
My name is Tina Leung, and I am a student at the University of Sydney, conducting honours
research on the role of chaplaincy in NSW prisons.
Being very interested in the rehabilitative potential of religion on inmates, I intend to
interview prison chaplains to gain a deeper understand of how they perceive their role, their
views on rehabilitation, and how they negotiate the tensions arising from their religious role in
a secular prison environment.
I would like to invite you to participate in this project. An interview lasting between 1 to 2
hours, will be conducted with the participant, and will be held at a secure location that is
convenient to them (e.g. the head office of their affiliated religious organisation).
Acknowledging the sensitive nature of each chaplain‟s work, all those interviewed will be
guaranteed anonymity, confidentiality and the right to withdraw at anytime.
I can be contacted by email via email@example.com or by phone on 0416 888 956
should you have any further questions.
Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Appendix B: Interview Protocol – Semi-structured
Greet the participant, introduce myself, thank them for their time
Present the participant info sheet, talk through and answer any questions
Present the participant consent form, obtain verbal and written consent
Prison facility demographics
Personal demographics (probe for – age, country/area of origin)
Education and employment background
B. Prison chaplaincy role
How did participant become a prison chaplain?
Main duties – what is involved, and how much time spent on them
Initial expectations and any unexpected challenges
How do they understand their role as prison chaplain? Are conflicts that are associated
with that role? If so, how do they understand them?
How prison chaplains negotiate their roles, and resolve any conflicts
How the prison context affect/shaped their understanding of their role as prison chaplain
C. Views on rehabilitation
What do they think is the main reason for putting an offender into prison – to protect
society, to punish them, to deter them, or to rehabilitate them?
Existing (secular) correctional programs – are they „too hard‟ or „too soft‟ on
What do they think is the best method to rehabilitate offenders – equip them with
skills, educate them, deal with emotional issues which caused them to break the law, or
change their values through religion?
Do they find their rehabilitation efforts restricted in anyway? If so, by what (e.g. lack
D. Values and religious beliefs informing their work
A typical counselling session – what it involves, what techniques are used
What is the participant‟s primary objective when counselling inmates?
How do chaplains experience the serving of many different religious needs while
adhering to one faith background personally?
How much do their own religious beliefs inform their interactions with inmates?
Religion – when it works in rehabilitation and when it doesn‟t
Concluding comments and questions
Arrangements for non-participant observation, reconfirm date and time
Thank participant for their time