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November 5, 2008 > The role of a chaplain at a correctional facility

The role of a chaplain at a correctional facility

By Dustin Findley

Reverend Louann Roberts is the full time facility chaplain for the women at Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas. A chaplain is basically a pastor, or leading figure at a church, but a lot more. She explained that she coordinates all the religious services for the 600 plus women at Elmwood, composes death notifications, counseling, teaching, contacts ministers (all faiths) to visit their parishioners, and fundraising for the nonprofit organization she works through: CIC Ministries.

Reverend (Rev.) Roberts teaches a specialty class at Elmwood for women under 25, called "Heart and Soul." This has never been offered before in the jail. "It's educational and spiritual but not religious" Rev. Roberts said. The class does not pertain to any specific religion or type of faith.

The program includes a set of self-esteem classes, rebuilding image of self, strength, what to offer the community, family, art, music, guest speakers. This is 10-week course, meeting once a week. The reason that this class is only for women under 25 is that this is fastest growing prison population. Rev. Roberts, and everyone involved, wants to address the problem before it gets worse, and "try to get young women some of the help they might need before they have to come back again."

The county contracts with CIC Ministries to provide "chaplaincy services for all faiths." A Buddhist inmate can request to see a Buddhist priest, for example. Rev. Roberts will meet with them to make sure they bring in the appropriate person. They already have a collection of religious service providers: Buddhist priests, pastors, Catholic priests, Muslim Imams, Rabbis, the whole gamut "to fulfill religious needs."

Rev. Roberts, and other chaplains, coordinate all of this. She said "We also have our own faith background" to provide worship services, bible study, and the like. Rev. Roberts does a lot of pastoral counseling.

Chaplain work includes more than religious services. "We spend a lot of time helping folks that are particularly in vulnerable populations, such as these young women, the mentally ill, older folks, seniors that are over 55 in the jail, who have special needs" said Rev. Roberts. So chaplains also do a kind of social work. Visit www.cicministries.org for more information.

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