Jane Foraker-Thompson, supervising chaplain for the Nevada Department of Corrections, has her work cut out for her.
With more than 11,400 inmates collectively at eight prisons, Foraker-Thompson covers three of them - Warm Springs Correctional Center, Northern Nevada Correctional Center and the Nevada State Prison - about 3,300 inmates.
American Corrections Association standards recommend one full-time chaplain for every location with 500 or more inmates. To say she is stretched thin is an understatement.
"I am supposed to cover all these and, at the same time, help develop statewide standards for every recognized religion, supervise the state, the chaplains and the religious programming provided at each one," Foraker-Thompson said. "And answer questions of program and security staff at the eight prisons, 12 camps and one restitution center about inmate dress, worship practices, liturgical items and books for each religion.
"We consider ourselves fortunate to have full-time chaplains at Ely, Lovelock, High Desert, Southern Desert and Southern Nevada Women's Correctional Center."
Foraker-Thompson along with Jackie Crawford, director of prisons, recently asked Good News Jail and Prison Ministry to help raise funds for a second chaplain for Carson City. This would cut Foraker-Thompson's work in half.
There are more than 800 religious volunteers statewide in Nevada. The corrections department recognizes 26 different faith groups. Most volunteers help in Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City areas. They also go to Lovelock, rural camps and Ely.
NNCC also has the only state prison hospital, Regional Medical Facility, which has an aging population as almost all of extremely elderly, terminally ill and those with serious chronic diseases are sent there.
Because of that, Foraker-Thompson and others are working to install a prison hospice program.
"I am wearing myself out trying to do this," she said. "If it weren't for the wonderful prison ministry volunteers for all the faiths, mainly Christian, both lay and ordained who give of their time so generously and with such dedication, things would be a real mess here."
One volunteer group is Kairos. Kairos, which means "God's time," began in Nevada in 1982. It is a prison spin-off of the Cursillo movement in the 1960s in Spain by the Catholic church and goes by other names now as well as Kairos.
It is an intense weekend with short talks on serious topics of a life walk in faith, small group discussions, upbeat Christian songs, worship and lots of love.
"It has a profound and lasting effect on the lives of many participants," Foraker-Thompson said. "Many inmates have been brought to have faith in Jesus Christ over the years through their Kairos experience, and they have a high rate of success when they parole because of their faith and the support group informally formed by the Kairos community."
Kairos volunteers in 1983 founded The Ridge House, a safe, healthy place for inmates to go to transition from being institutionalized and losing their self-esteem and self-discipline to becoming mature, responsible, drug- and alcohol- free adults.
"They are an ecumenical, inter-denominational group that does not mention or push doctrines on the attendees, but simply preach, teach and model Jesus Christ."
Foraker-Thompson said if Good News Jail and Prison Ministry is able to raise funds in Nevada to fund one or two more chaplains, the new chaplains would be treated as if they were employees of NDOC and be subject to the same rules and regulations as all staff. They would be under her supervision, as well as the ministry.
"Of course, the best and most responsible solution would be for our own state Legislature to step up to the plate and fund these positions themselves through the general fund," Foraker-Thompson said.
According to Administrator Dorothy Nash Holmes, the Department of Corrections receives $8,400 every two years to do assessments on new inmates coming into the prison, not for supplies.
Nash Holmes said Foraker-Thompson has a budget insomuch as the Correctional Programs Division's budget covers her operations, supplies, equipment, etc. Foraker-Thompson simply is not in her own separate budget account.
"NDOC does accept donations and some have been made for the chapels at our various prisons," Nash Holmes said. "Bibles and Quorans and other religious books, in both English and Spanish, have been donated and are distributed free to inmates who want them."
"I certainly hope GNJPM will be successful in raising funds from churches and other charitable organizations they can tap in order to fund one or two chaplain positions for Carson City," Foraker-Thompson said. "They are desperately needed."
- Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1223.
State Prisons in Nevada: Ely, Lovelock, High Desert State Prison, Southern Desert Correctional Center, Southern Nevada Women's Correctional Center, Nevada State Prison, Northern Nevada Correctional Center and Warm Springs Correctional Center
Number of inmates: More than 11,400
Number of religious volunteers: More than 800
Number of faith groups recognized: 26
Number of chaplains: Six
Duties of supervising chaplain: Help develop statewide standards for every recognized religion; supervise state prisons, the chaplains at each and the religious programming provided; answer questions of all program and security staff at the eight prisons, 12 camps and one restitution center about what's allowed as far as inmate dress, worship practices, liturgical items and books for each religion, etc.; personal counseling of inmates, talking with inmate families; giving emergency health or death notices to inmates sent by their families, or contacting families about the serious health conditions or death of their loved one inside; marriage counseling; advising staff of legal and constitutional rights of inmates to practice their religion; answering second-level grievances having to do with religious practices and availability of such; recruiting and training volunteers; informing organizations in the community that can help with programs and make donations of religious materials, etc.; supply inmates with books and other materials for their religious practices
Donations accepted: Nevada Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 7011, Carson City, 89702