When Aiken County inmates are moved into the newly built Wire Road jail at the end of the month, Chaplain George Coleman will be out of a job. For the past year he's been a full-time spiritual counselor for prisoners held in the cramped, overcrowded Hampton Avenue detention center.
It's not that Coleman's services aren't needed, it's that a larger security force is needed even more - and the new guards' payroll expenses must come out of a tight county budget. The new $14.8 million facility will average about 350 prisoners, compared to the existing facility that averages about 230 prisoners.
"We haven't the luxury right now of having an actual county employee being a chaplain," says new jail administrator John Rowley. Consequently, Coleman's responsibilities will shift from spiritual to security.
Coleman will still be able to be a volunteer counselor on his own time, but it will be impossible for him to continue the salaried pace he has been on for the last four months - 1,565 hours of ministry, including 583 counseling sessions.
Inmates' religious and counseling requests will have to be met by volunteer ministers coming to the jail. Rowley will even try to send the volunteers to prisoners of like faiths.
Most city and county lockups don't have paid clergy on the staff, so asking spiritual leaders to volunteer their time is not unusual. Hopefully, clergy from all religious faiths in the Aiken area will answer the call for volunteers. His experience has taught Rowley that responding to inmates' spiritual and counseling needs plays an important role in curbing rates of recidivism.