The Harris County Sheriff’s Office Jail Chaplaincy Department exists for the purpose of facilitating the religious needs of and providing spiritual care for the inmates and HCSO staff. We pursue this mission in an ecumenical fashion and with compassion towards everyone. Our desire is to equip individuals with the skills needed for living healthy and productive lives.
The Harris County Jail Chaplaincy Department utilizes over 200 dedicated Volunteer Chaplains acquired from the community at large so that the cultural and religious diversity of Harris County is reflected.
Programs and Services
Death Notifications. The HCSO Jail Chaplaincy Department serves as a liaison between those incarcerated and their families in times of tragedy by assisting with the difficult task of notifying an inmate that a loved one has passed away or is terminally ill. In the case of a confirmed terminal illness, and whenever prudent, an inmate is given the opportunity to speak with their loved one prior to their passing. In the case that a staff member is notifying an inmate of the confirmed death of a family member, a phone call is provided so that the family and inmate may have an opportunity to grieve together. Soul care and prayer are provided for both inmates and their families, and Grief Counseling is provided to inmates if requested.
Biblical Counseling. One-on-one Christian faith based counseling is provided to inmates who may need soul care apart from in-cell ministry. Services are provided by licensed professionals or College of Biblical Studies interns (senior level students in Biblical Counseling degree programs). Services are provided to inmates by inmate request or by referral from other HCSO departments, particularly via the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD.
Foundations of Spiritual Life. Seminary level classes are taught by current seminary students, seminary graduates, and professors. A detailed study of three theological doctrines (anthropology [man], hamartiology [sin], and soteriology [salvation]), are designed to give the student a theological grid for the purpose of buttressing the students’ biblical worldview. Provided by request and assessment for appropriateness to inmates who show a desire, and gifting, for servant leadership whether in their community once released, or during their impending long-term incarceration.
Marriage on The Rock & The S.A.L.T. Parenting. The curriculum is provided by Prison Fellowship. Enrichment seminars are taught by instructors certified through Prison Fellowship. Provided to small groups of inmates who have requested to participate and then screened for appropriateness. These seminars do not meet the requirements for Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) parenting classes.
Addiction Rehabilitation & Recovery Services. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are provided to inmates through a partnership with Alcoholics Anonymous and their Corrections Committee. Celebrate Recovery (CR) meetings are provided by HCSO approved volunteers who are trained through Celebrate Recovery to facilitate meetings.
Visitor Assistance Program (VAP). A Helps Ministry that was created with the primary purpose of assisting the families of HCSO inmates with navigating through the visitation process. Prayer and spiritual support are provided if and when needed. Services are provided through volunteers associated with churches or organizations that wish to make a regularly scheduled commitment to this ministry.
Men's church service
Women's church service
Q. Can an inmate get married while at the Harris County Jail?
No. House Bill 869, which took effect September 1, 2013, no longer allows those seeking proxy marriages to appoint another person to stand in during the ceremony, unless they are serving in the military and stationed outside of the country. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office does not allow marriages to be conducted inside the jail. Because both marrying parties must be present, inmates must wait until they are released to be married.
Q, Can I get help to tell an inmate their family member is in hospice or died?
Yes. The HCSO Jail Chaplaincy Department is here to help families in times of tragedy by assisting with the difficult task of notifying an inmate that a loved one has passed away or is terminally ill. In the case of a confirmed terminal illness, and whenever prudent, an inmate is given the opportunity to speak with their loved one prior to their passing. In the case that a staff member is helping to notify an inmate of the confirmed death of an immediate family member, a phone call is provided so that the family and inmate may have an opportunity to grieve together. Please note: Jail Chaplaincy cannot facilitate any communication between parties involved in protective, no contact, or restraining orders.
Q. How does an inmate get released for a funeral or to visit a terminally ill family member?
The Chaplain’s Office cannot assist with any releases or furloughs. Unless an inmate is bonded out, the court system must order an inmate’s release from jail. Furthermore, it is up to the inmate’s family and his/her lawyer to make the appropriate requests of the presiding judge for an inmate’s release and provide all requested documentation.
Q. Can I send an inmate a Bible or other religious text other than what has been donated?
Yes, however, all Bibles and other religious texts must be brand new, paperback, and sent directly to the inmate from an authorized publisher (such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble) via the United States Postal Service. Shipments must include the inmate’s full name, SPN number, and housing location. Anything sent directly to the Chaplain's Office in an inmate's name will not be distributed.
Q. Can the Chaplain pass a message or phone number to an inmate for me?
No. Per state law Jail Chaplaincy cannot pass messages to inmates from the outside world, unless it is regarding the verified terminal illness or death of an inmate’s immediate family member. In the case of any other information that must be given to an inmate, you must write a letter, come to visitation, or set up a phone account so they may call.
Q. If an inmate is in General Population, can they get help for their drug addiction?
Addiction Rehabilitation & Recovery Services such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Celebrate Recovery meetings are provided to inmates through partnerships with AA, and their Correctional Facilities Committee, or volunteers who are trained through Celebrate Recovery. An inmate may voluntarily sign-up to attend any of these meetings if they are provided for their assigned housing location and literature will be provided to those inmates who regularly attend said meetings and actively participate.
Q. How can an inmate become a better parent or spouse while in jail?
Prison Fellowship provides curriculum for enrichment seminars such as Marriage on the Rock & The S.A.L.T. Parenting. These small groups are taught by instructors certified through Prison Fellowship and are provided to inmates who have requested to participate and then are screened for appropriateness. Please note: These seminars do not meet requirements for CPS ordered Parenting classes.
Q. How can I become a Volunteer Chaplain?
In order to qualify as a Harris County Jail Volunteer Chaplain, you must meet the following criminal background requirements:
- Volunteer applicants may not have any convictions (felony or misdemeanor) for crimes against a person or delivery of a controlled substance (i.e. assault, battery, manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance, possession w/ intent to deliver)
- Volunteer applicants must be 10 years removed from the conviction/disposition/release date of any felony convictions pertaining to property (i.e. theft, burglary)
- Volunteer applicants must be 3 years removed from the conviction/disposition date of any other Class B misdemeanor.
If you meet the criminal background requirements, then you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. An email will be sent to you detailing the interview and application process.
God's way and will, although it may not be easy or fast, it produces in us character, strength, and endurance. [The] classes have planted seeds in me that will produce a harvest that my daughter will be able to enjoy the fruits of, and for that I am grateful. I’ve been given knowledge, which in turn has given me freedom behind these bars and “If the Son gets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36)Inmate
Not only have [the volunteers] given the inmates at the Harris County Jail valuable tools to better understand and study the Bible, they have also helped many of us learn to develop better relationships, as well as better marriages.Inmate
I find [the parenting & marriage classes] to be very educational and insightful. I would recommend them to any of these women in here who haven’t been privileged enough to take them.Inmate
Statistics - August 2017
Contact Us About Our Chaplaincy Program
John Downs, Chaplain
Bureau of Mental Health and Jail Diversion