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Correctional Chaplaincy: Helping People through Compassion and Care

CoreCivic | 9/9/19 8:00 AM


By Rev. Brian Darnell, Director of Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services

“Chaplains provide a culture of hope, pastoral care, a faith-based perspective...solace to the vulnerable, a safe place to those struggling…a listening ear, a compassionate heart, and an uncompromising commitment to the safety and welfare of the facility, the correctional team and the population.”

I found this quote in a 2012 email from former CoreCivic executive and current board member Harley Lappin. My predecessor Tim O’Dell left it in my office, and I’ve chosen to include it here because it speaks to the understanding and support I've received from our management team as I settle into my new role as director of Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.

2019-Brian-Darnell-SmallForSocialI had the honor of meeting Tim through my work at the Tennessee Department of Correction, where I served for seven years in a variety of chaplaincy-based roles. Tim represented chaplaincy at CoreCivic in such a positive and profound way that it motivated me to seek out a career here in the wake of his retirement.

Just as Tim did before me, I support CoreCivic chaplains at our facilities and co-lead our Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team with Dr. Duke Terrell, our senior director of Mental Health. The CISM team deploys in response to sentinel, traumatic events that may occur from time to time in our company, such as natural disasters affecting our facilities or an employee's death. CISM team members provide confidential and compassionate emotional support to those impacted by the traumatic event. 

Another important aspect of my role is to ensure we are upholding inmates' religious rights, which are protected under the U.S. Constitution. I serve as the company’s subject matter expert on 40-plus different faith designations to ensure inmates have what they need to practice their faith.

The work I do is much more than a job to me; it's a calling, and I am passionate about the role of faith-based programming in helping to reduce recidivism. Let me explain the connection between these important programs and successful reentry.

When someone is incarcerated, they often see the consequences of their actions for the first time. I believe there are spiritual questions all inmates consider when they’re placed in this situation. When they look in the mirror, they have to ask themselves, "Who am I? Why am I here?" As these individuals begin processing those thoughts and feelings, they often see the value of living positively with others. CoreCivic's reentry mission – and all the programs that support it – revolve around this idea of contributing positively to the broader community.

Recently, I saw this focus on reentry in action when I visited our Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia. Chaplain Judith "Chappy" Smith and Program Facilitator Angelyn Dean lead CoreCivic's Threshold faith-based program at Coffee. They teach inmates about goal setting, relationships, and applying their faith to better decision-making. It’s no wonder Threshold program completion rates at Coffee are nearly 100 percent. In fact, 18 more participants are scheduled to graduate in November. Chaplains throughout CoreCivic are carrying out the same kind of meaningful work, helping people to grow personally and spiritually.

While it's hard to measure the metrics of faith, it's vitally important that we not lose sight of holistically addressing the needs of individuals in our care. I am confident that there is always room for innovative ideas at CoreCivic, and I know we have the resources and agility to respond to the opportunities before us with compassion and care.

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Topics: Reducing Recidivism