Can You Volunteer in a Prison?

Thousands of people volunteer in prisons across the United States every year. Volunteering in a prison is a popular way for people to give back to their community, as well as helping those in need.

Yes. Volunteering in prison is allowed.

There are many different ways you can get involved and volunteer in a prison; from tutoring to helping inmates prepare for interviews, volunteer opportunities are plentiful in correctional facilities.

In this blog we will talk about.

  • How to start volunteering in prison
  • What volunteer opportunities exist
  • Lack of volunteers in prisons, why?
  • Qualifications needed to start volunteering
  • How volunteers can further get involved

How to Start Volunteering in Prison.

If you are looking for a meaningful way to change someone’s life, volunteering in a prison may be perfect for you. Prisons rely on volunteers to provide services that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Later in this article we will touch on the different volunteer services that exist and which one may be best for you, but for now we are going to discuss how you can get started.

There are many non-profit organizations dedicated to connecting volunteers with prisons and correctional facilities in need. One of the most famous non-profits is the “Prison Fellowship”. The “Prison Fellowship” is centered around spreading faith, specifically the message of the Bible and Jesus Christ to inmates inside prisons.

“Prison Fellowship” offers many different ways to volunteer- from hands on work to purchasing products for inmates, there are volunteer positions to accommodate every lifestyle. ‘Prison Fellowship” is just one example of how you could get involved. There are many other non-profits that have no religious correlation, so regardless of your beliefs, there are ways to still volunteer.

An example of a non-profit that has no religious affiliation is “VolunteerMatch”. “VolunteerMatch” is an online platform that many volunteers use to find opportunities across a variety of industries and professions. “VolunteerMatch” is not exclusive to just finding volunteer opportunities in prison, they are able to connect you to many other opportunities in your area as well.

One of the easiest and most common way to start volunteering is to reach out to either the facility itself or contact your sheriff’s office. Some facilities post opportunities directly on their website, some use third parties such as “VolunteerMatch”, and few don’t post opportunities publicly at all. The sheriff’s office is another great place to start your search. A simple google search can reveal a number of opportunities, but if you are looking for a specific opportunity, contacting the institution directly may be your best bet.

What Volunteer Opportunities Exist?

There are hundreds, if not thousands of volunteer opportunities within correctional facilities throughout the country. Volunteers are a valuable asset to prisons, prisons rely on volunteers to fill the gaps that the budget doesn’t reach, as well as to provide experiences that inmates would not be able to have otherwise.

Here is a list of some of the most in-demand volunteer gigs for prisons in the United States

  • Tutor
  • Teacher
  • Counselor
  • Priests/Deacons
  • Job/career training
  • “Life coaches” – Helping inmates prepare to re-enter society.

There are many more in demand volunteer opportunities but volunteers in these fields are greatly lacking. Volunteers offer a lifeline to inmates that want to better themselves before their release. Volunteers have been credited with helping inmates turn their life around.

Teachers and tutors are critical to helping a prisoner get on the right path after their release. The literacy rate in prison is low and having a group of volunteer support inmates that struggle with reading and writing can help them immensely once they are released.

Counselors and “life coaches” are great resources for inmates as well; these people help inmates with their emotions and are their “cheerleaders”. In prison, inmates do not receive much support, volunteers can help support an inmate and encourage them to pursue their dreams and avoid temptations when released.

If you are looking for ways to volunteer, a quick google search can help connect you to correctional facilities that need your help. You can change someone’s life.

The Shortage of Volunteers in Prisons.

While it is true that thousands of people volunteer in prisons every year, there is still is a large shortage in needed volunteers. 0.7% of the population of the United States are prisoners. With the United States having a population of 324.2 million people, that means there are 2,298,300 behind bars. The desire for volunteers is high.

The shortage can be attributed to a few key different reasons:

Reason One: Volunteers aren’t aware of the opportunities.

This reason is simple, people just don’t know that you can volunteer in prison. When someone who is looking for a place to volunteer at, prisons rarely come to mind. This is because it is assumed that volunteer programs within prisons simply don’t exist.

Reason Two: Volunteers are concerned about their safety.

Volunteers who have never been in prison view prison exactly like it is conveyed in the movies, full of gang wars and bloody riots. This is not the case. While it would be incorrect to say that violence does not occur in prisons, it does not mean that it is a constant war zone. Volunteers that treat inmates with respect are treated very well. Inmates recognize that volunteers are taking time out of their day/night to work with them. Inmates treat volunteers with respect, so long as the volunteers respect them.

Volunteers change lives. Volunteers help inmates improve their life.

Qualifications to Start Volunteering in Prison.

In order to start volunteering in prison is it important that you possess the following attributes:

  • Be able to pass a background check
  • Have a skill or desire to help someone.

There are not many qualifications to begin the process of volunteering. Specific volunteer positions such as a counselor will require a degree, but for the most part, volunteer jobs are open to anyone that meets these two qualifications.

To volunteer as a tutor, for example, only requires you to be good at the subject you want to tutor in. If you are good at math and want to help inmates with math, then being a tutor is a great idea.

One qualification that is often overlooked is the “why”? Why do you want to volunteer in a prison? If you are volunteering in a prison for the wrong reasons, your time spent volunteering will not be beneficial to anyone. It is a good idea to sit down and think about why volunteering in a prison sounds appealing to you, is it because you want to help an inmate improve their life after release, or is it something else?

How Volunteers can get Further Involved?

Volunteers in prison have been quoted as having mixed emotions when an inmate is released, the volunteer is happy that the inmate is able to go back out into the world, but sad that he/she will not be able to work with them again. Volunteers that have made a substantial impact on an inmate’s life will make an effort to stay in touch after their release.

The number of feel-good stories that exist due to volunteer-inmate relationships I truly heartwarming.

If you are in this for the long-haul, volunteering in prison may be for you. Previous volunteers have gone on record to talk about their experiences working in various different prisons. Their stories show how much of an impact they really did have on the work they did in the prisons. If a volunteer can help teach an inmate to read, then that inmate once they are released is able to move into the world at new speeds.

Doing volunteer work, regardless of the type of work, always makes you feel good. The ability to help someone in need without expecting anything in return is one of the best feelings, for both the volunteer and the inmate.


How do volunteers directly affect an inmate’s life?

The relationship between a volunteer and an inmate can be life changing for both parties. If, for example, you were to tutor an inmate in English, that might encourage that inmate after they are released to write a book. If you teach an inmate a skill such as painting, they may go on to open their own art studio.

The influence a volunteer can have on an inmate is immeasurable.

Do volunteers receive protection while in prison?

In the majority of cases, yes. Volunteers are typically working with inmates in a common area where there is ample supervision and protection. It is quite common to see a volunteer and an inmate working together at a table in the general population area. Volunteers don’t just go with the inmate they are working with into their cell, there is a specific time and place for volunteers to work with inmates.

Thank you for reading this article! What has been your most impactful volunteer experience? Let us know in the comments below!


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