Scottish prisons provide a lucrative target for religious bloodsuckers. Secular groups are outraged.

FIGURES released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that, since 2008, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has spent a total of £5,404,666.74 on chaplaincy services for the country’s 14 public prisons.

The cash, according to this report, was spent on ministers of various faiths and on religious books and equipment. The SPS did not provide details of what items were bought to fulfil the religious needs of prisoners, but it gave one example: the chaplaincy service at Polmont bought a New Testament Bible in Vietnamese at a cost of £12.99 plus postage.

A Scottish Secular Society spokesman angrily denounced the spending.

He said:

There is a boom in priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and laypeople attaching themselves to the secular institutions largely funded by the taxpayer. Entrance into prisons is vital missionary work for churches or mosques that find their congregations dwindling.

There is a widespread abuse of their services. A recent study found an increase in ‘shared spaces for prayer reflection and meditation’, despite the declining popularity of religion over the past 10 years.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill outside HMP Edinburgh, where £807.22 was spent per prisoner providing 'spiritual guidance' over the past five years.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill outside HMP Edinburgh, where £807.22 was spent per prisoner providing ‘spiritual guidance’ over the past five years.

He added:

It is common practise for people who are not particularly religious to highlight their faith once in prison to gain access to special diets.

Government figures in 2011 showed that 40 percent of prisoners said they did not belong to any religious group while 56 percent described themselves as Christian.

A spokesman for the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities said they supported the spending.

We support the right of all prisoners to be able to observe their religion. The Jewish community provides a chaplaincy service to Jewish prisoners, for which no fee is charged.

Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Scotland called for MORE to be spent:

If you consider how little this amount is of the total budget, it really is not that much. Religion is an essential human right and this is a less than fair percentage of the total budget.

No-one was available for comment from the Scottish Catholic Church, The Church of Scotland or the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The £1-million or so spent annually means that an average of £644 per inmate has been spent on spreading superstition since 2008.

Scotland’s most religious prison is Castle Huntly open jail, near Dundee, where the average spend per prisoner is £1,943.29 over the period. Peterhead – notorious as the former home of Scotland’s most serious child sex offenders – came second at £1,864.35.

The least religious jail is Perth at just £458.13, followed by Shotts, North Lanarkshire, at  £703.80 and the young offenders institute at Polmont, near Falkirk, at £753.80.

Spending is increasing year-by-year. The total for “staffing costs” for 2008/09 was £1,004,942.44 but that has risen steadily every year to the 2012/13 total of £1,142,388.89.

Based on the average spend per prisoner over the period, Inverness is Scotland’s third most religious prison at £1,006.22. HMP Dumfries came fourth at £1,005.38.

Barlinnie, Scotland’s biggest jail – and reputedly the toughest – still spent an average of £943.90 per prisoner since 2008, putting it in seventh place.

Cornton Vale, the female-only prison near Stirling, spent an average of £827.32.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

28 responses to “Scottish prisons provide a lucrative target for religious bloodsuckers. Secular groups are outraged.”

  1. Stephen Mynett says:

    “Entrance into prisons is vital missionary work for churches or mosques that find their congregations dwindling.”

    I would agree, religions are run by criminals and it is always easier preaching to the converted.

  2. andym says:

    “Religion is a human right.” Yet another despicable attempt to play the human rights card by religious scum.

    The right to believe and worship is the human right , not to have it financed by the state. But these clever people know that.

  3. barriejohn says:

    The series Secret Millionaire can at times be quite inspiring. In one episode, the millionaire, despite his obvious antipathy towards criminals, went inside prison and was introduced to the work of a poor woman who was labouring under straitened circumstances in an effort to educate young men who had had little in the way of education in the outside world. She received little support and little in the way of financial assistance depite the obvious value of what she was doing. The millionaire was won over and made a generous donation! What might have been achieved in Scottish prisons if this five million pounds had been spent on education and proper counselling, rather than attempts to promote primitive superstitious beliefs amongst the inmates?

  4. Broga says:

    The feeling that this wasteful nonsense rouses in me is a sense of frustrated impotence. The decline of belief continues while money is poured into faith schools, prisons and subsidies. I heard a while back a woman who, I think, was some kind of director of faith school education. I wonder how much the tax payer pays her. These BBC religious types are not much troubled by the blessed are the poor approach.

    She provided the usual pap about the need for pupils to know about other faiths and God. The interviewer asked her, “What do you mean by God?

    She replied, “What do YOU mean?”

    He then said, “Good reply.” This was on the BBC so I suppose he had to tread warily or get a bollocking.

    He then asked, “Why should tax payers pay for other people’s superstitions?” The man was showing real form I thought.

    She moaned in reply, “That is a wide issue with many implications.” He let her get away with that. I think this was on Radio 5 early morning a couple of weeks ago.

  5. Angela_K says:

    I have always held the opinion that if the various cults want to preach their superstition to criminals, they should fund it. The cults seem to have plenty of money to campaign against equal marriage and other egalitarian causes but plead poverty when it comes to preaching access and the maintenance of the buildings.

    The biggest obscenity of all are the Hospital Chaplins funded out of the health care budget.

  6. Stephen Mynett says:

    Angela, I couple of months back I saw an ad for a chaplian’s job, with a NOttingham HC trust I think, the pay was just short of 40K. This is disgusting in itself but when you compare it to nurse’s pay it becomes totally obscene.

    I have been in and out of hospital all of my life and for all the theists bleat about them doing good, I have seen hospital religoes upset far more people than they have cheered up.

  7. Stuart H. says:

    By an odd coincidence – the number of prison chaplains there have been at my local prison (2) in the last decade exactly equals the number of clergy who have been imprisoned there.
    One of the clergy imprisoned was actually the former prison chaplain, jailed for sex offence with under-age girls. This didn’t stop the prison employing his successor at a bampot pentecostal church as the replacement chaplain. The second clergyman was imprisoned for smuggling in some African guys as slave labour to do up his house, under the pretence of sponsoring them for a visit to give them ‘spiritual guidance’.
    Sometime people wonder why I say religious morality is a contradiction in terms.

  8. Broga says:

    @Stuart H. I do love the “spiritual guidance” provision. In the gullible it might raise expectations which cannot be met. A friend of one of my daughter agreed to be married in church because her mother had always dreamed of her having a white wedding with all the trimmings. The bride to be was indifferent about religion and the groom was an atheist. They did not want a church wedding but her father said that if they did not it would “break your mother’s heart.”

    So they agreed and these weddings cost big money which could have been spent on their small flat. The vicar invited them to discuss the arrangements and for “spiritual guidance.” The groom wondered what spiritual guidance was and this turned out to be advice that they should “pop into church occasionally”, pray and regularly read the bible. The last bit, as we know here, can be the fast track to atheism if the reading is careful and not selective.

  9. Peterat says:

    I’m curious to know what expenses – other than colouring books and other “incidental supplies” etc – a priest would incur when they visit a prison near their local parish.
    Do they charge other agencies that they provide “spirtiual guidance” to?
    And completely agree with Anglea: the obscene amounts of money the churches spend defending their own paedophile priests, covering up their crimes, defending parents’ “rights” to abuse/shave their crippled children, paying for oversized bathtubs and overpriced “artwork” should completely negate any requests for public funding of any sort.
    Hell, if the prisoners want it so badly, let them fund it!

  10. barriejohn says:

    Stuart H: Would that be HM Slade Prison? Sounds like it!

    We had a similar case in this area a couple of years back:

  11. Matt+Westwood says:

    “They did not want a church wedding but her father said that if they did not it would “break your mother’s heart.””

    The meaning of the word “heartbreak” has been devalued to mean “minor disappointment”.

    Parents like that who play emotional blackmail with their children deserve to get their hearts broken. As for my own religious fascist parents, when I told them I was shacking up with my gf, they informed me I would never be welcomed socially in their house again, and I could consider myself no son of theirs.

    Six months later I had a phone call: “We haven’t heard from you for a long time, I hope you’re all right?” Sorry mater, I thought I’d transgressed myself out of the family — so what do you want off me now?

  12. Broga says:

    @Matt+Westwoo d: It is indeed emotional blackmail and is nasty. It assumes the wishes of the religious must prevail. Another example is a christening. An atheist friend of my son, and a lapsed RC or whatever the phrase is, was prevailed upon by his parents to christen his son.

    He asked my son – they are close friends from schooldays – to attend for support. My son, who grew up almost religion free, said he could scarcely believe what was being said. It was beyond anything he had expected. His friend said, “That’s it. No more. I’m finished with this.”

  13. Robster says:

    Inmates are an obvious choice for those spreading the nonsense. They’re a captive audience, have perhaps exhibited a compromised mental capacity (really intelligent crooks don’t get caught) and therefore could be good candidates for superstitious claptrap. The chaplains can pretend to be doing good things for the inmates while getting potential victims for their various cults and that has to be attractive for churches with their numbers diminishing so rapidly. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  14. Stuart H. says:

    @barriejohn – no, this is Isle of Man – Barry (D) actually ran a story in the Freethinker on the slave labourer a few years back.
    As it happens, since my previous posting the situation gets more farcical. We’ve grilled the headmaster at my daughter’s school about a Scripture Union visit and asked which other religious ‘educators’ were approved. In the process we found that the prison chaplain also asked to visit but has been effectively blacklisted by our education authority (oddly enough on advice of the RE advisory committee, which is chaired by the Bishop. I suspect because spouting creationist and homophobic guff is considered, even by other small town clerics, unsuitable for teenage ears.

  15. barriejohn says:

    Stuart H: Slade prison was Norman Stanley Fletcher’s abode in Porridge. It all seemed so absurd – as you say, farcical!

  16. Brian Jordan says:

    It’s difficult to see why all that has to be spent, when there are organisations happy to go into prisons and proselytise. E.g. tne Lord’s Day Observance Society One might have thought that all days were the same in clink, but evidently they don’t agree. As for gaining access to “special diets”, I wouldn’t have thought letting prisoners consume human flesh and blood was a very good idea.

  17. barriejohn says:

    As I may have said before, Emmaus Correspondence Courses are a big thing with the Plymouth Brethren, and are now used throughout the world. There is a very active “prison ministry” in many countries. Just tell me in what way it is beneficial to prisoners to read Bible passages and answer questions that a child would be capable of answering. Of course, there are “benefits” to completing these courses and demonstrating that you are a compliant, “born-again” prisoner!

    There are 70+ courses available in English and 40+ in Spanish. The free courses offered through the Prison Ministry are “popular” level and not for college credit. However, the courses are quite challenging and the transcripts from ECS* Ministries are often used for parole hearings and entrance into further educational programs.

    *Emmaus Correspondence School

  18. Shyanne says:

    I totally respect secularists’ right to question how public money is spent. Of course I do.

    I also happen to think that “religionists” like me (hate that term actually) should indeed be called to account when (and it’s not if – it’s when – since we’re human beings) we stuff up. I welcome that, in fact. (It’s one reason I read secularist and/or atheist propaganda and hang out on their forums.) It’s good for Christians to be made to audit ourselves constantly. No issues with that as such…

    However, there are so many just incredibly ignorant statements being spouted all over the place, in such tones of smugness/bitterness/hatred by secularists at the moment that it makes me think that it would be good if secularists would audit themselves here and there too.

    The keyboard warriors commenting here, for instance, clearly have little or no idea what prison chaplains actually do. I have a clearer idea since I actually am one! I would love to engage and to try and explain a little but after years of trying to do so on t’interweb I’ve virtually concluded there is no point. All that happens is spiteful vitriol, and the occasional atheist and/or secularist who apologises privately and says it would have been nice to have a proper conversation.

    I think there is an important conversation to be had, though, about what sort of society we want – including in our prisons, schools and hospitals. I’d be interested to know if anyone can point me in the direction of a forum where people engage more fruitfully, making their point without claiming that “religions are run by criminals” as the first commenter does everyone or describing people of faith as “relgious scum” as the second commenter above does.

    And Robster, if you think that because we have “a captive audience” (true) who “have perhaps exhibited a compromised mental capacity” (sadly also true), that it follows that “the chaplains can pretend to be doing good things for the inmates while getting potential victims for their various cults and that has to be attractive for churches with their numbers diminishing so rapidly” then I have to tell you that that statement has more errors than it has words. 😉

  19. Broga says:

    @Shyanne: The Vatican seems to me to fulfil many of the criteria for “criminal organisation.” And that, including its hordes of paedophile priests, is the foremost Christian organisation in the world.

    The current pitiless moves by the C. of E. (I don’t know your religion?) to drive into bankruptcy people, often elderly, who have had the misfortune to own property near to churches is shameful. It seems the upkeep of the church is more important than home owners having a roof over their heads.

    And I suppose what irritates many of us here is the insistence that the source of your guidance, the Bible, is filled with contradictions, cruelties absurdities and reflects the dictat of a cruel and tyrannical God who has an insatiable appetite for applause.

    I don’t know what you do in prison but does it not come with an evangelising subtext? And finally, in my experience I know a great deal more about faith, religion and the bible than most of the Christians I meet. Indeed, I suspect that they need their ignorance to maintain their faith.

  20. Shyanne says:

    Thanks Broga for agreeing that you don’t know what I do. That was exactly my point. As to having an evangelizing subtext, no. Proselytizing is prohibited.

  21. barriejohn says:

    Shyanne: I’m sure that you are a paragon of virtue, but during my years with the Brethren I came into contact with a veritable multitude of Army Scripture Readers, chaplains, padres and other assorted “spiritual guides” whose averred aim was “to win souls for Christ”. Search the internet and you will find abundant evidence that this sort of thing still goes on.

  22. AgentCormac says:

    @ Shyanne

    The problem as I see it is that religious institutions are, and historically always have been, given privileged access to ‘captive audiences’ in prisons as well as hospitals. Merely by dint of the fact that they are religious institutions (which somehow seems to imply they are ‘good’ – which clearly most atheists would contend is not the case). The support which people like yourself provide is, like it or not, based upon your religious convictions and even if you don’t (or can’t) proselytise, the very fact that you are a visible front person for a religious institution surely makes (and is surely designed to make) an immediate and unequivocal connection in the minds of those you engage with between caring and faith. In other words, it is a way for the church you represent to further its domain simply by having you there as a conspicuous, unquestioned, unelected and uninvited (by the prisoners themselves) ‘agent of the force for good’. Ergo, proselytising.

    Clearly, one can be good and do good while believing wholeheartedly in any brand of religion. The latter is not a prerequisite for the former, so I am not questioning your integrity. Equally, however, anyone who claims that it is impossible to be good without god deserves all the ridicule and, quite frankly, abuse they get. (I would point you to the following Freethinker thread

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I don’t doubt that you as a person genuinely try and help others because you yourself are good and want to do good, I find it hard to believe that as a prison chaplain the help you provide can ever be detached from your faith. And I can’t for one second accept that the church you represent (whichever one it is) would ever want that to be the case.

    Like it or not, you are a recruitment officer for your religion.

  23. Broga says:

    @Shyanne: My supposition that you had a proselytising sub text was based on what I suggest was a reasonable assumption. If you don’t proselytise then you are presumably acting as an unqualified social worker. And that role in covered by trained and well qualified professional social workers e.g. probation officers.

    So without the proselytising are you annoying them and getting in the way by being an unqualified social worker? Just wondering as I have an interest in just how ministers, padres, priests or whatever function.

    I am, as it happens, on good terms with our local Roman Catholic priest. I mention that to counteract the notion that as an atheist I must be a ravening, frothing at the mouth, unreconstructed and demented bigot. I also like Christmas Carols and will soon be getting out my Readers Digest Bumper CD of Carols. “In the bleak mid winter” is one of my particular favourites – classy words.

  24. Shyanne. says:

    Agent, I agree that the help which I hopefully provide can’t be detached from my faith. I’m a human being not a filing cabinet with separately locked files and drawers. I very much doubt that your atheism doesn’t inform your daily choices and behaviours either. We are who we are. Although I work with those of all faiths and none, and facilitate religious prisoners (of any persuasion) getting to practise their faith within the limits of the custodial environment, most of what I do is in no sense religious except, arguably, it is wholly so. What I mean is that my starting point is that I choose (I would say “with God’s help” but appreciate that’s crazy talk to an atheist) to love unconditionally every single man in that prison – the racist, the misogynist, the homophobe, the bigot, the drug dealer, the murderer, the sex offender, the whoever. I choose to believe that however odious their attitudes and their offences, there’s a bit of good in them (yes, I think of it as the image of God – I know, I know…) and they could be better people and I will listen to them and encourage them till the cows come home. But, kind as it is of you to say that’s because I’m a good person I know I’m a very human bag of insecurities, doubts and weaknesses – like every last one of us on Planet Earth.

    I’m not going to apologise for my faith underpinning what I do any more than you would for your atheism underpinning what you do.

  25. Shyanne. says:

    Broga, glad to hear your mouth is foam free! Our job is so far removed from what a social worker does it would take more energy than I have left after a day in the jail! They have a crucial and difficult job which is part support of the prisoner but ultimately a supervising role involving risk assessments, liaison with police and public protection and so on. Ours is more pastoral, more confidential and just on a wholly different footing. It’s hard to explain, but whatever else we are, we aren’t wannabe amateur social workers, or indeed psychologists. I work with people at the end of their sentence so maybe I’m just a cheerleader cheering them over the finish line! Or, as I said, I’m there to love them.

  26. Broga says:

    @Shyanne: It just so happens that I do my own prisoner support and have done for many years. First as a member of Amnesty International. But also as a member of an organisation called Human Writes I have been writing to, and giving some financial support, to a man who has been on Death Row for almost 20 years. I also send him books occasionally. Easy via Amazon as the prison knows nothing is being smuggled in as Amazon packs the books.

    He is incarcerated in the USA and his experience of the visiting pastor is not good. Show insufficient enthusiasm for the message of the pastor and you get nothing except contempt. The stress of facing death for that long is beyond anything I can imagine. He likes books on stoicism – Epictetus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius etc – and he is an intelligent man. He is not a white man as nearly all on Death Row are black or Hispanic.

    I don’t do this because of any belief in God as I have none. Quite the contrary as I think God must be a monster to oversee the hellish suffering in the world. I do it because I feel such sorrow and sympathy for a man who has, through letters, become my friend.

  27. Shyanne. says:

    Broga, I’m under no illusions that I can change anyone’s stance about Christianity on this page so am going to agree to disagree with your view of prison chaplaincy but want to sign off on a positive note – well done for being there for that prisoner – and who cares what colour he is… That’s brilliant. So many of the public, encouraged imo by the media, hate offenders. I am happy that you’re not and wish you and your prisoner friend every blessing. x