Major Changes for Chaplaincy in Virginia

GraceInside recently secured a new five year contract with Virginia’s Department of Corrections to continue to provide faith-based services for the incarcerated within our Commonwealth. The previous five year contract was on a year extension and had been implemented in 2012.

With the new contract, the VADOC took advantage of the opportunity to reallocate resources for the facilities based on population changes as well as security level. As part of the contract, the VADOC provides GraceInside with a portion of resources from the Inmate Commissary Fund. This Inmate Commissary Fund is, itself, a portion of the proceeds from purchases made by the incarcerated through their institutional commissary, e.g. toothpaste, stamps, pencils, clothing, toiletries.

A little history lesson:  For over 80 years, GraceInside donated all of the chaplaincy services on behalf of the Protestant churches in Virginia through a Memorandum of  Understanding. However, with the radical increase of prisons built in VA (18+ since the 1980’s) at a time when denominational revenue was declining, GraceInside found itself unable to meet the demand for new chaplaincy positions. Around the turn of this century, Delegate Kirk Cox presented a bill before the General Assembly to allow a portion of the Inmate Commissary Fund (intended to be utilized to “enhance inmate life”) to be used for faith-based services.  We know with certainty we enhance the lives of those inside. This evolved over the past two decades into the current process where the VADOC issues a Request for Proposal and GraceInside responds and has been awarded the contract.

While many negotiations between businesses aim for how much they can get for the lowest price, GraceInside is different. Together with our GraceInside family, we work to see how much we can GIVE!  We are contracted for a minimum level of service  but our goal is to provide the maximum we can to transform lives and hearts of those behind bars. We are quite sure we are the only contracted agency with the state that aims to give much more than is in the contract.

Other big news is that our chaplains will receive a more reasonable wage. Remember the initial wage was $18.20/hour. Over the past five years, GraceInside had added many additional hours to the contract AND supplemented the wage to $21/hour. Happily, the VADOC and the Board of GraceInside agreed that a minimum reasonable wage for our professionally trained, qualified and dedicated staff is the new wage of $25/hour.

Because the appropriations cap the amount of the Inmate Commissary Fund available, the VADOC had to reallocate its resources to accommodate not only population changes but also this new wage. For that reason, most of our facilities will see a change in service hours provided by the chaplain.

What hasn’t changed is our desire to see full-time chaplaincy within all major institutions. With the reallocation and with your generous general and designated contributions we are closer than ever. GraceInside is committed to maintaining or increasing service hours at: State Farm Complex, Greensville S2, Augusta, Marion, Nottoway, Pocahontas, Dillwyn and Keen Mountain. Without additional support, some will see no immediate change: Greensville S1, Greensville S3, Green Rock, Deerfield and Red Onion. Some facilities saw an adjustment of between 3 and 25 hours/month cut back.

These new hours do rely on BOTH donated (fund-raised) resources as well as the contracted revenue from the VADOC Inmate Commissary Fund. We see God’s miracle through the increase in awareness and donated funds over these past five years. You make this happen!

The money received from our denominational, church and individual partners from both designated and general fund resources is considered in these new chaplaincy hours. Our greatest professional desire is to provide as much ministry as possible so that the hope of Jesus Christ can be made real in the lives of the more than 30,000 men and women we serve.

The three women’s prisons were the hardest hit category. Based on population, Central Virginia Correctional Unit #13 was eliminated from the contract and both Virginia Correctional Center for Women and Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women saw significant cuts for a total loss of 175 monthly hours ($4375 monthly or $52,500/annually). The experience of almost 100 years tells us the women’s prisons take advantage of religious opportunities and pastoral care participating at a much higher rate than the men’s facilities. Historically, we considered this in our allocation of resources and we have no plans to change this. GraceInside is committed to serving the incarcerated women of Virginia and recognize the desperate need for significant chaplaincy for these mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. Our Easter Campaign will focus on seeking to restore chaplaincy to our women’s prisons.  We have already heard from some of our GraceInside family as word gets out that they are eager to work with us to restore hours of service. Read more about the women’s prisons HERE.

In light of all of this, what do we need from our GraceInside family?

  • Pray – for our staff, volunteers and those we serve as we make these adjustments
  • Be our ambassador and help us spread the word about what we do.  Awareness can lead to support.
  • Continue to believe with us with your time and treasure that lives can and do change behind bars.
  • Connect us – if you know of a ministry opportunity – a place to share our story or a fund to which we should apply, please let us know. This can include grants, mission budgets, businesses with a heart to transform lives and people who might see the value of following Jesus mission in Matthew 25 – inclusive of visiting those in prison.

Our options for general support and for designated support have not changed.  We have taken into account faithful designated support and, in fact, are counting on it. If we see a significant increase in designated support at a facility, that chaplain will be able to serve additional time. Our Development efforts will absolutely continue for both designated and general support – as both are essential for sustaining chaplaincy.

Lastly, we are unique in the United States and unique to Virginia. Nowhere else is there the opportunity to continue a Christian ministry, serving all faiths, behind bars. Because of you and your support, your prayers and your care, thousands of people experience God through the love of Jesus Christ each week. We like to think we are the original multi-site church – diverse in tradition, denomination, race, culture, language, age and background. What unites us is a common belief that the love of God as seen through the life of Jesus Christ can make miracles happen.  Thanks to you, we have a front row seat to God’s miracles every day.

GraceInside February 13, 2019