Pagans in Prison – Editorial

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We have had an explosion of incarceration in the United States in the last 30 years.  Minority races, the poor, and least educated continue to be way over represented as inmates statistically. Addiction, and our society’s inability to cope with the plague it represents, contributes to arrests and recidivism, and drug offenses fuel incarceration rates. Young males dominate the populations of our prisons, while female rates explode proportionately but in smaller overall numbers. One in 28 US kids has a parent in prison, and that tells much of the story of where the males are that might be a role model.

The religious civil rights of Pagans, or any inmate, are now well established in law. Whether the implementation of that law takes place seems to depend on individual states, institutions, and the staff and chaplains who work within them. Officials and inmates can work together to find reasonable accommodation to individual spiritual practice, and equity of accommodation among the many spiritual paths in prison, or we can all bear the cost of resolving these issues through the courts.

Inmates pay for their crimes through the loss of their freedom. To expect them to lose the rights our Constitution considers basic human rights is more for our satisfaction and as ‘punishment’ for those who may have caused us pain or harm.

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Pagans in Prison – Interview with Patrick McCollum

This begins a series about Pagans in Prison, and those who ‘minister’ to them.  Religious volunteers report most Pagan prisoners find their Pagan path once they are incarcerated. The loss of freedom that prison represents is a strong motivator to find some meaning in life, and Pagan spirituality often offers the most relevant choice.  Prisoners are invisible to us, unless they get publicity.  I hope this series increases our  awareness of this part of our community for, sooner or later, many will return to our general society, and look for spiritual support.

Patrick McCollum

What is critical to understand within this topic, is the difference between loss of freedom, and loss of civil rights. Prisoners retain some civil rights even while in prison. Our Constitution’s First Amendment is about religious freedom, and within bounds, remains in force for those incarcerated.  I had the opportunity to interview one of the foremost authorities regarding religious civil rights and prison, and Patrick McCollum also happens to be a Pagan.  Read his qualifications at the end of this interview!

 There are prisoners convicted of state and federal crimes, often mixed together in state institutions, does it matter?

The principles are exactly the same in the law. In federal prisons there are some additional provisions that grant additional rights, more than state prison systems, but what I’ll talk about is applicable to both systems.

What are a prisoners civil rights regarding religion in prison?

There was a law upheld by the Supreme Court (unanimous) in 2005, called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (RLUIPA)  which laid out the basics of what religious accommodation prisoner of all faiths have right to. What the act says is that the state is required to accommodate each and every inmates religious need.

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