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Prison chaplains could soon be getting the ax in North Carolina, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Like their colleagues in other states, NC lawmakers are faced with a severe budget crunch, and some want to trim $3 million from the budget by eliminating the state’s 54 state-salaried prison chaplains and replacing them with volunteers.

That’s bad news on a number of fronts. The folk who work as prison chaplains have professional training that equips them to handle any number of situations that could simply not be covered by volunteers. They are a calming presence in potentially heated environments.

Professional chaplains are also responsible for facilitating the faith needs of a dozen faith groups, because the constitution doesn’t allow the government to show preference to one religion over another. While volunteers might be found for inmates who claim Christianity or Islam, prison wardens could be hard-pressed to find volunteers for smaller faith groups.

There’s a much easier and better fix than cutting the jobs of prison chaplains: eliminate “capital punishment,” which is a fancy name for “killing prisoners” — or trying to. In the first place, I believe killing prisoners in cold blood is both wrong and shameful, something Americans should really think about more seriously. 

Practically, studies consistently show that enforcing the death penalty is a huge financial drain for the states, costing far more than a penalty of life imprisonment. One study estimated that North Carolina, for example, spends nearly $11 million per year on extra costs associated with capital cases alone (information from NC as well as other states can be found here).

So, if lawmakers are really concerned about the budget, they can save $11 million by leading the state to stop killing prisoners, keep the prison chaplains in place, and come out with $8 million in additional savings.

The state could have a cleaner moral conscience, calmer prisons, and a healthier financial picture. What’s not to like about that?

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