Chaplain Access to Prisoners HB 1579 (White) | SB 654 (Bettencourt/Lucio/Springer)

The TCCB supports criminal justice reform that provides for compassionate treatment of prisoners, responds to the needs of victims of crime, and encourages rehabilitation and forgiveness for those re-entering society. Bills filed this session address both the overall need for prisoners to have access to spiritual support and the specific concerns of those awaiting capital punishment.

Chaplaincy services: SB 654/HB 1579

These bills would require the adoption of a policy that protects the free exercise of religious rights of inmates by ensuring access to volunteer and faith-based chaplains and chaplaincy services. The TCCB supports this bill to support religious freedom for the incarcerated. These are key provisions of the bills:

  • Adding “chaplains” to the list of volunteer and faith-based organizations that can provide programs and services for inmates housed in facilities operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).
  • Requiring TDCJ to ensure chaplains are able to (1) conduct religious services, (2) provide pastoral care or spiritual guidance, and (3) otherwise support inmates who wish to receive or participate in those programs or services.
  • Recognizing limitations on right of access to chaplains in situations where they are not available or if it would endanger the safety or security of the facility.
  • Recognizing remedy for an inmate whose free exercise of religion has been “substantially burdened” by a TDCJ policy either via an inmate grievance system or any other remedy allowed by law.
  • Additional reporting requirements for the warden to include documentation on claim, defense, or legal action arising from an alleged violation of inmate’s rights or any accommodation made or remedy undertaken to resolve the claim.

Care for our incarcerated brothers and sisters is an integral part of the Catholic faith. No one knows this more than the Catholic priests, sisters, deacons, and lay persons who minister to them.