Federal Training Centre & Montée St.François Institution
08 Oct, 2014
I am grateful to yet have a role as institutional chaplain in two penitentiaries, located in Laval, in spite of significant re-arrangement of their resources by the Correctional Service of Canada. A part of this change has been the administrative merge of these two institutions which now have a combined inmate population of approximately 800 (and still growing) compared to some 450 about 3 years ago. This reflects the “tough on crime” approach of the federal government and the squeezing of administrations together in an attempt to mitigate the cost of the increase in prison populations across the country.
You might imagine the impact on chaplains of such changes. The numbers certainly speak of more work but the increase in need is not simply arithmetical. The stress of over-crowding, double-bunking, rationalization of food services, dramatic cuts in inmate earnings for employment, in addition to the despair that goes along with longer sentences, tightening of traditional staged and managed release practice, all contribute to much greater pastoral demands upon us and the volunteers who so generously give of themselves in helping chaplains to make the walls that divide our community less absolute than they are.
This need and difficulty notwithstanding, there is Grace at play in this privileging support for recovery and healing of community that takes place in spite of the dividing walls. The adherence and persistence of volunteers who could not imagine life otherwise for themselves, and the always surprising arrival of new volunteers, in this chaplaincy endeavour, is truly inspiring to me. I am grateful to yet have a role in chaplaincy, with these volunteers as my examples.
I am grateful also because the institutional role provides an essential link, qualification and accreditation for the work we do in the community at MSCM (Montreal-Southwest Community Ministries) which is reported elsewhere in this Circular.
One of the significant changes that have taken place in the federal prison chaplaincy is the removal of Canada’s faith communities from the role they had as contractors and providers of chaplaincy services. A claimed benefit of replacing the faith communities with a single contractor is the saving of a couple of percent of what was already a severely under-resourced and under-valued service. We now have to work more intentionally to ensure that inmates have the pastoral care needed from their communities of faith and that, equally importantly, the faith communities themselves hear a prophetic call to care for and to include their outcast brothers and sisters in their understanding of what it is to be church.
I commend prison chaplaincy, and all who are implicated in it, to your prayers and to your consideration of how we might support it.