Prison Chaplaincy Program Gets Facelift

25 Mar, 2014

The federal government has awarded a private company a $2 million contract to deliver religious counselling to prisoners, including minority faith services, as part of a system overhaul quietly rolled out over the last six months.

It comes little more than a year after the government came under fire for cutting loose about 50 part-time minority faith chaplains after a CSC ad for a Wiccan service provider struck a nerve with then public safety minister Vic Toews, who said he was concerned about the use of taxpayer dollars.

Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc, a company started by a handful of current and former prison chaplains won the bid. Since October, about 30 full– and part-time chaplains of all denominations have been serving prisoners across the country, according to company President, John Tonks.

There are still about 81 chaplains working in the federal prison system and those employed by Kairos only account for about 22% of the total. Most, he said, are still operating under multiple individual contracts signed between various faith communities and the government. But as those contracts expire, he explained, their positions will be replaced under the single contractor Kairos, which was among at least 3 bidders, has the contract for a year and will have to bid again as the changes roll out over years.

“This service-delivery model will give the national contractor flexibility to respond to religious and spiritual needs represented by

either large or small numbers of offenders,” CSC spokeswoman Veronique Rioux said. “This model will respond to both the present and future multi-faith needs of a diverse offender population.”

Tonks said it became clear the government “had to recant” on its plan to slash all part-time chaplains. It wasn’t just about Wiccans, he said, adding the move created a ‘crisis’ among offenders over access to faith leaders of their choice, he said, including among Quebec’s Protestant minority that was serviced by part-time chaplains.

“So what the government (decided) is it’s more efficient, from their perspective at least, to go to one contractor,” he said, adding, “I think there are some advantages of going this direction.”

Under the new system, there is more ‘equity‘ among chaplains across the country in terms of pay, benefits and pension, he said. There’s also more flexibility in terms of the ratio of men to women and the various denominations.

Tonks describes the program as an ‘essential service’ now more than ever as the correctional system has become ‘more punitive’ under the Conservatives.

Last year, the prison chaplain program was said to cost about $6.4 million, $1.3 million of which covered part-time—including minority faith—chaplains. It’s not clear how much the new delivery model is expected to save.

Source: Postmedia News

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