After the Webinar: The Top 10 Things to Consider with Jail Ministries. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Dr. Dan Philips and Brandon “Choe” Sergent answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Jail Ministries: The Top 10 Things to Consider. Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: As a volunteer, what are some techniques to keep my personal opinions and feelings separate from the work I’m doing in a jail? 

Brandon “Choe” Sergent: I think that’s what probably most people struggle with. I think that’s why it’s important for the people that are doing the jail ministry to also have an opportunity at their church to decompress, to be able to speak with their own pastor about what they’re seeing what they’re experiencing and to make sure that it’s not harming them in a negative way. So they need somebody to be able to talk to themselves, everybody needs somebody to be able to vent to, to explain to, and then also at times, there may need to be breaks. And that’s why once again, we mentioned the need for having so many parties involved, because at times people sometimes it’s there is something very taxing, draining and they’re going through some other issues along the way. Just step away for just a moment make sure they take care of their own health.

Aaron (host): Emotional intelligence is probably a good skill for this. We’ve done a number of webinars on emotional intelligence. There’s another one, Shaken Not Stirred: How to Keep from Responding to Someone Else Trying to Trigger You



Audience Question: How does being a minister in a jail differ from being a minister in a prison setting? 

Brandon “Choe” Sergent: I think one of the major things the difference in jail, the prison setting is the time that you have to work with people. Generally, in the jails that we have around us, people are going to be there for a shorter amount of time. So there are people that are more looking to what’s going to happen when they get out and how they’re going to be able to get themselves prepared for that versus prison which can also happen. But a lot of times, it’s about how they’re dealing with the moment in everyday life of being incarcerated, compared to how we’re going to look at life after being on since I get out.

Dr. Dan Philips: I also know that if you look at things like suicide rates in jails and prisons, jails are particularly high, prisons are high enough, but lower. I think that speaks to the mindset of where people are at. Prison is certainly no fun that people know where they’re going to be how long they’re going to be. Jails are kind of like an emergency room. People are very stressed out, and they’re kind of in a crisis. So the difference between being somebody intervening in crisis versus somebody providing long term spiritual guidance.



Audience Question: How much does it cost to run a jail ministry? And I’m sure budgets vary but is there a minimum amount that in your experience at church would require? 

Brandon “Choe” Sergent: A minimal amount would just be the amount that it really takes to buy books. And this is also depending upon jail size. The jail that we have here is right around about 200. And certainly, not all of them participate in it. But we generally spend about is as low as $500 on material directly from the church, and it actually will go a tremendously long way because most of the resources can be reused.



Audience Question: Could you share your thoughts on retired law enforcement officers being jail ministry volunteers? 

Dr. Dan Philips: I certainly think that’s a good thing. I think, again, you’d have to vet people just like you do with the church people, if you’ve been involved in law enforcement, you may certainly understand the folks that you’re dealing with at the same time you shouldn’t also want somebody who developed kind of jaded view of them.



Audience Question:As a church, how do you recommend we approach a sheriff’s department to explore their interest and need for a ministry program? 

Brandon “Choe” Sergent: Oh, absolutely. What we would do is we would call them. We would set up a meeting, we forthright and sharing with them the initial idea over the phone, ask them if they be interested to meet. Once we got with them, we would share with them our desire to be a partner and to help. We want to assure them that we’re not wanting to do anything that causes any negativity, any consequences that are not desired. But we would like to partner on this and be a contributor to help and see the desired impact in their lives. And then from that would hopefully begin the conversations into the more specifics.



Audience Question: If you’re approaching your sheriff’s department, do you reach out to the sheriff themselves or do you try to figure out who the director of jail services is? Who do you end up approaching there? 

Brandon “Choe” Sergent: That one can kind of vary because the sheriff’s department can vary in size. Here, we would definitely just reach out to the local sheriff, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. That’s always the best practice if you can, to go right to the top. But then also some sheriff’s departments will have a chaplain themselves. And that is a good contact to make in speaking to that chaplain, because generally, they’re probably working very hard, and they’ll probably be very open to the idea of some additional help.

Dr. Dan Philips: My experience has been that if you are ever trying to do anything with an organization such as the jail, sending a message or letter even at first to the jail, and basically let them know upfront what kind of thing you’re talking about so they can hand this off to an assistant and associate and you can get direct to the right person.



Audience Question: Are either of you familiar with any studies that examine the impact of jail ministries on jail participants, on inmate participants. 

Dr. Dan Philips: You know, I remember looking at an article several years ago where they were talking about the benefits, I cannot remember, if they were suggesting this anecdotally by talking with chaplains or they really had done a study to see. The things I have heard them discuss is that a jail chaplain can kind of free up staff time, it can kind of help maybe make things more secure by listening to issues instead of the staff having to deal with those issues. Aaron, I have put up on their contact information for both myself and for Choe Sergent. If anybody needs any more information, or if you’d like to send me an email asking me about that information, I’ll see if I can find some research that speaks to that.


Audience Question: Are jails required to provide religious services for their inmates? 

Dr. Dan Philips: From what I’ve always heard and what I’ve seen written, years ago the courts ruled that prisoners have the right to worship, a legitimate faith, okay? Meaning there are some faiths that aren’t recognized. And although the jails and prisons have to let people worship, they don’t actually have to provide clergy. So what you’ll see is a jail where if you’re a Christian, you want to read your Bible, read your Bible, the jail doesn’t have to go out there and hustle up some minister to force them to come in. I think there’s also some other rulings that suggest that if you are on a work detail that prevents you from being at a service, they’re got to do something special for you to get you back in time. But I think the real issue is people want to worship in jails people could benefit from jail chaplains. Jails don’t have to go out there and find somebody. And so volunteers are really important. And hopefully, what we’ve done is just provide some basic questions here so that you could write these questions down and make it a part of an intake process when you’re talking to the local ministries.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Jail Ministries: The Top 10 Things to Consider


Additional Resources
5 years ago
Hot Topics in Managing Pregnant Women in Jail-Based Settings
Correction facilities are now playing a significant role in public health. The range of health condi […]
5 years ago
Legal Issues in Today’s Jail: Use of Force
Use of force is a sensitive issue, and it becomes even more problematic when it is in the jail setti […]
6 years ago
Legal Issues in Today’s Jail: Medical Care
For most of the population, being an inmate is somewhat equated to being bereft of rights – this i […]
7 years ago
Security Threat Groups and Gangs in Prisons and Jails
For many people, when word “gangs” is mentioned, one thinks of groups of criminals in society.  […]