Becoming a Minister

If you want to learn more about how to become involved in Catholic jail, prison, or detention ministry, the information on this webpage can:

  • Enhance your understanding of the various types of Catholic jail and prison ministry; 
  • Offer guidance in discerning what type of ministry may be a good fit for you; 
  • Explain the critical role of jail and prison ministry in the Catholic Church.

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What does Catholic Church say about jail and prison ministry in the U.S.?

To learn more about the Catholic Church’s involvement in jail and prison ministry in the United States, we recommend you read the USCCB statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” by clicking the link below.

Discernment for ministry

Whether you are new to this ministry or you are a seasoned veteran, these key questions are important for ongoing reflection and formation:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • How have I been called to accompany others?
  • Where am I in my faith journey?
  • How can I represent the pastoral care ministry of the Church?
  • How can I navigate the carceral system?
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Types of Ministry

Prison Ministry

Prisons are places where people are sent to serve time after they are convicted of a crime. In prison you are likely to have continuous contact over months and years with the same people. It is possible to get to know them very well and to mentor and help them over time.

Jail Ministry

While people tend to lump both jail ministry and prison ministry together, in reality there are significant differences.  Jails are places where people are detained while waiting for adjudication of their criminal charges.  To better understand the differences between jail and prison ministry, visit our webpage on this topic by clicking here.

Reentry Ministry

The effects of incarceration reach beyond the time of confinement. Upon being released from incarceration, ministers can offer accompaniment, mentorship, and practical support.

Immigration Detention Ministry

Immigration detention concerns include: the reasons and issues for detainment, trafficking, coyotes, inadequate conditions in detention facilities and border camps, and initial and ongoing trauma.

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Juvenile Detention Ministry

Among the populations affected by incarceration, juveniles can easily fall through the cracks of the system, and their specific needs are often different from their adult counterparts (e.g. neuropsych development, addiction, mental health, and LGBTQ identity). Ministers can support the emotional and spiritual health of our young people as they navigate their experience of detention.

Pen Pal Ministry

A common way people first become involved in prison ministry is by writing letters to an inmate. The Order of Malta Federal Association and American Association coordinate a pen pal program that offers volunteers the opportunity to develop a relationship with an inmate through two-way correspondence, via email or letter.


Restorative Justice Advocacy

Restorative Justice is a way of understanding crime in terms of the people and relationships that were harmed, rather than the law that was broken. It is rooted in values of human dignity, right-relationship, healing, accountability, and encounter, consistent with Catholic Social Teaching. Examples of restorative justice include circle processes, victim-offender dialogue, and community conferencing.

“There should be no prisons, jails, or detention centers that do not have a regular and ongoing Catholic ministry and presence.”

- USCCB, USCCB, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice”

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Next steps

  • Discern which type of prison, jail, detention, or reentry ministry you would like to pursue.
  • Connect with a mentor in your diocese who is already involved in ministry.
  • Connect with your applicable diocesan office or program related to prison or jail ministry.
  • Search for local programs or facilities through which you can volunteer. Click the “Explore Our Listings” button below to view jail, prison, and reentry ministries across the country!
  • Pursue formation and continuing education through CPMC’s resources, including our Educational PacketFoundational Training program, webinarstown halls, and liturgy and prayer resources.