Legal For Guards To Talk Religion With Inmates!?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about prison guards talking religion: Are their actions in violation of laws and statutes?

I am a supervisor in a jail. Two of my subordinates are being approached by prisoners, regarding religion (Christianity). The two guards oblige them by discussions. My question: is it legal? As a supervisor I feel they are hired to perform specific duties, for which they get compensated. The county provides the prisoners with spiritual needs such as chaplains, literature, etc. I don’t agree with the guards engaging in this kind of activity. Are their actions in violation of laws and statutes? An answer would be greatly appreciated.

Signed, Jail Supervisor

Dear Jail Supervisor:

What does your handbook say about this matter? If it says nothing, consult your Human Resources people and get advice. Also your local, state, or federal superintendent of prisons should have a policy on this. You may be right in your thinking, but you are wise to first find if there is a policy about this. What might those charged with spiritual needs say about this?

Probably there is nothing wrong about conversation about values so long as such does not monopolize your guards time and attention from their job-described duties. Is it common practice for guards to have friendly conversation with inmates? Is the rule for them to keep a safe distance from those they guard? If these are your concerns, would it not be wise to so advise those you supervise?

Will you let us know what you learn? Our site is helpful to others by learning first-hand from those of you who are out there doing your jobs. You are thinking about the welfare of all concerned–those in jail, those guarding, and the community. That is WEGO mindedness.

A Second Opinion: Hello! Dr. Gorden asked me if I had further thoughts about his response to you…and of course, I always enjoy adding my thoughts! Dr. Gorden was absolutely correct that you should be checking on this matter with your commanders and with HR before you go any further. A supervisor, as you know, is one link–but only one link–in the entire process. Better to find out the legalities and have full support, before you proceed further. Write your concerns, so your role is documented. Say what you have seen, why you think it is a problem and what you propose to do about it. Add that you think HR (or whatever unit of government would normally handle personnel matters, legal issues and so forth.) as well as Internal Affairs (if your organization has that function in-house) should be involved with this.

Close by saying that you will wait to take any action about it until you hear back. Then, send it up the chain, through your commander to the commander above him or her. You know your own organization best, so be guided by that. But don’t let it stop until you feel you have had the matter addressed at a decision-making level. In the meantime, if you see an immediate jeopardy to safety and security, say something about it and get the detention officers re-focused. Apparently this has gone on for some time and you have not perceived such a threat. Thus, you can wait until you get support from those who will ultimately have to take the final action. If you find out you have support, ask for guidance about the best approach. This seemingly obvious matter could be full of potholes if not handled correctly. Congratulations for observing and evaluating your area of responsibility. You’re on the right track now, to ensure that your actions fulfill organizational guidelines. Best wishes,
Tina Lewis Rowe and William Gorden