A seven-year-old prison chaplain group recently was awarded a one-of-its-kind, $25,000 state subcontract to minister to a rapidly growing faith behind bars: Islam.
But the all-volunteer Muslim Chaplain Services wants more state funding so it can hire imams to serve as prison staff chaplains, as do Protestant clergy. "We just want a level playing field," said Carroll Abdul-Malik, the group's president.
The Chaplain Service of the Churches of Virginia, a Protestant group established in 1920, has the full, $780,000 contract with the Virginia Department of Corrections to administer religious programs in prisons for inmates of all faiths.
Relations between the two chaplain groups are cordial, and they agree on the need for Islamic experts in prisons.
So, too, do some secular experts with concerns beyond the spiritual.