Silver Lining To COVID-19 Found Within IDOC Religious Services

(INDIANAPOLIS) – Relative to life and operation within correctional facilities, opportunities for religious practice and needs are sometimes limited.

COVID-19 pandemic challenges have uncovered new ways and methods correctional Religious Services can be provided. Volunteers, religious-based organizations, and area churches have always and will remain the backbone foundation that provides much needed religious and character-based support to the offender populations within our nation’s correctional facilities.

To aid and help shoulder this need within the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC), a wide variety of religious groups now provide weekly digital rebroadcasts of their services, with some creating specific messages targeting the offender population directly.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the IDOC was proactive and visionary in providing their offender populations (27,000 housed within Indiana) with Wi-Fi enabled tablets. These tablets, although not Internet-enabled for safety and security reasons, provide secure ways for digital messaging and live videos with family members.

In addition, the tablets enable unique entertainment and educational opportunities by providing individual choices to films, books, and music. The use of the tablets also serves a critical Re-Entry function by developing and maintaining critical technology-based skills that are instantly needed when an offender is released within the general population. This department-wide tablet project has been developed and deployed in a way in which there was no cost to taxpayers.

Utilizing this tablet system, IDOC Religious Services has now begun a diverse and ambitious program that delivers regular religious programming content to all major religious groups. Specific to Christian and Catholic faiths, the following volunteer groups are making regular daily/weekly content available directly to the whole offender population. Current providers include the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,  Church Anywhere of First Capital Christian (Southern IN), Eastern Star Church (Indianapolis), ITOWN Church (Central IN), and Northview Church (Central and Northern IN).

Deacon Marc Kellams, Coordinator of the Indianapolis Archdiocese Corrections Ministry shared, “The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is pleased to provide the Catholic men and women within the IDOC with access to daily Mass, as we all practice our faith from afar.” In addition, many other volunteers, faith groups, and churches around the State of Indiana continue to remain in regular contact with the offender population by providing the IDOC Religious Services with regular digital lessons and content being distributed to all offenders during this COVID-19 pandemic period.

Managing the overriding vision and delivery of Religious Services for the IDOC, David Liebel; Director of Religious Services states: “This has been a great opportunity to use technology to bring comfort and support to our population. In the month since we first posted religious videos on the tablets, they have been accessed over 450,000 times. With the current restrictions on movement resulting from COVID-19, we could no longer hold religious services as usual. The tablets allow us to provide a wide variety of teachings and services while maintaining good health practices. I am grateful for the many groups who have been supportive of this effort and willingness to freely share their material.”