Religious Programs

History of Religious Services

California prison chaplains have long served the state to provide spiritual and moral guidance to those behind bars. They’ve officiated at funerals, helped plan education and baptized incarcerated congregants. Participation in religious observances is voluntary, but through the years chaplains have found themselves acting as librarian, counselor and therapist.

William Hill was the first chaplain. He was appointed Moral Instructor at San Quentin in 1881. After two years on the job, Hill was the first to be named Chaplain. He retired in 1889. A full history of state prison chaplaincy can be found at

Over the years, California has hired Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Native Americans to the role as chaplain. Currently, approximately 125 chaplains are hired and working in state service. Each prison hires from 3 to 5 chaplains. Religious services take place in facility chapels, Native American Sweat Lodge grounds, and on the Outside Religious Grounds (ORG).

Chaplaincy Classifications

California employs’ chaplains from five different faith group classifications. These are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Protestant. Chaplains in these classifications attend to the various religious and spiritual need of all inmates, oversee the religious programming and scheduling of all religious services, as well as provide crises counseling and death notifications. The chaplain is also required to fulfill various administrative duties including processing of donations, interviewing inmates for religious diets, attending meetings, and coordinating volunteers.  

Persons interested in a Chaplain or Native American Spiritual Leader career can visit

Chapel Volunteers

Chapel volunteers provide very important religious services to the inmate population. Volunteers assist in opening up chapel space for increased number and availability of religious services, greater selection of faith groups for inmates to choose from, and expanded counseling opportunities. The various faith groups represented by Chapel volunteers include but are not limited to, Apostolic, Buddhist, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, Native American, Odinist, Orthodox, Protestant, Wiccan and many others.

The presence of volunteers also sends a message to inmates that there are people in society that care about them, that they are important and not forgotten.

Religious Personal Property Matrix (RPPM)

The Religious Personal Property Matrix (RPPM) list all allowable religious personal property that inmates may purchase and possess. The RPPM provides consistent statewide standardization for what religious items that inmates may possess in which to practice their faith, while restricting any items that have been determined to present a safety and security concern. Common items that inmates may purchase are religious head gear, such as kufi caps, yarmulkas, prayer shawls and prayer rugs. Color restrictions for clothing items limit the inmate to white, gray and multi-color with predominant color of white or gray. These colors allow the inmate to practice their faith without allowing predominant gang colors or colors that can aid the inmate in an escape attempt. 

Another common item are prayer oils. The scents allowed are more mellow scents that will aid the inmate in their prayers, but not so strong that the oils scents will mask other smells.

All religious property on the RPPM must be purchased from an approved religious vendor.   Religious texts, such as the Bible, Koran, or literature, can be purchased from any vendor or bookstore that does mail order business.

Religious Diets

Inmates who have a personal, ethical or religious diet need may be able to participate in one of four diet programs: Plant-Based, Vegetarian, Religious Meat Alternate-Halal (RMA), or Religious Kosher (RK). Inmates must apply to be on these programs and are regularly monitored to assure that inmates adhere to their diet program agreements.  

For an inmate to apply to participate in the Plant-Based or Vegetarian program, he or she must submit a form CDCR-3030-V to the Chaplain or CRM, and approval is automatic under most circumstances. For an inmate to apply to participate in the RMA halal or RK kosher, the inmate must submit a CDCR-3030-R to the chaplain or the CRM. The inmate will be interviewed by the chaplain and if approved, will be regularly monitored to assure that the inmate is adhering to their diet agreement of not purchasing non-halal or non-kosher foods from the canteens or quarterly package vendors. Inmates are subject to removal from the diet program after they are found to have made multiple purchase violations.