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Chaplaincies of prison

Functions and functioning of the chaplaincies

The role of chaplains in prisons has undergone important evolutions during the last thirty years: they were first treated as the administration’s right-hand men, and had concrete tasks (social support and advisories, teaching of French, calls to the lawyers, etc.), but they now work as spiritual attendants and confidents. There is indeed a real demand in spiritual support. It is a way for detainees to escape from daily life in prison, and to speak openly, free of institutional stakes. The work of chaplains contributes in recreating a social link and a sense of identity for the detainees. However, because of the religious and cultural diversity, their task is far from being easy, and the overpopulation of prisons involves work overload.


Public debates often discuss the correlation between Islam and criminal tendencies. Joëlle Vuille, research fellow at the Institute of criminology and criminal law of the University of Lausanne, challenges this assumption. According to her, Muslims are over-represented in prisons because their profiles fit the general sociological profile of criminals: young men with a low educational level. It is also a consequence of migration processes, but religion is by no means an explanatory factor. If we look at women, the Catholics are overrepresented in prisons. This is because a large proportion of female inmates are from South America and condemned for drugs trafficking. Once again, religious identity has nothing to do with criminal tendencies.

Source : Becci Irene, Bovay Claude, Kuhn André, Schneuwly-Purdie Mallory, Knobel Brigitte, Vuille Joëlle, Enjeux sociologiques de la pluralité religieuse dans les prisons suisses, 2011. Dans le cadre du PNR58 « Collectivité religieuses, état et société ».

D 13 January 2016    AAnaïd Lindemann

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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