Ky. prison suspends satanic services

Herald/August 31, 2002
By Valarie Honeycutt Spears

The state Department of Corrections suspended formal satanic services by inmates at one Kentucky prison yesterday until officials can research and develop a statewide policy.

Inmates at Green River Correctional Complex, a medium-security prison in Central City, have been allowed since earlier this summer to hold weekly satanic services as part of the official religious services calendar, said Lisa Carnahan, a spokes-woman for the state Department of Corrections.

The state suspended the services after the Herald-Leader inquired about the issue this week.

Inmates in at least two of the state's other 14 prisons -- Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex at West Liberty and the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women at Pewee Valley -- practice Satanism on their own, said Carnahan, who surveyed the institutions' wardens.

There is no statewide policy on whether Satanism can be practiced by inmates, and the decision is left up to each warden.

"We honestly didn't know it was on the religious calendar," Carnahan said yesterday. "We are researching it to see what we are required to allow under the law. But we've found information that indicates that satanic services could be a threat to the institutions, so for now we won't aid or abet satanic worship."

State officials began working a few months ago to draft a policy on religious services, including Satanism and witchcraft as practiced in the Wiccan religion.

Carnahan said the state has not suspended Wiccan services, which also are held at Green River and three other prisons: Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Oldham County, the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary's and Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville. A few Wiccans also practice informally at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville, Carnahan said.

Satanism emerged as an issue in Kentucky a few months ago, when an unidentified inmate at Green River pushed to practice it.

The warden, Patti Webb, decided that it was safer to give inmates a specific time and place to worship, where they would be monitored, rather than letting them practice satanic ritual among themselves on the prison yard, Carnahan said.

"She made a decision to give them a room to meet instead of meeting on the yard, so they could be monitored a little more," she said.

In the past, other inmates across the country have asked for candles, candle holders, incense, a gong, black robes, chalices and short wooden staffs or other objects. But Carnahan said that to her know-ledge, inmates at Green River had asked only to copy satanic materials. That request was denied.

The Green River inmate, whose name officials declined to release, has since been transferred to another state prison. The transfer was not related to the satanic services, Carnahan said.

Only two inmates showed up last week for the satanic services at Green River, Carnahan said.

Earl Pruitt, founder of Kentuckians' Voice for Crime Victims, said he was unaware that Satanism was being practiced in state prisons and wants to research exactly what is happening before issuing an opinion.

But, said Pruitt, "I certainly don't think that they ought to be holding satanic services in prison. It's because of those kinds of activities that some inmates are there in the first place."

Under federal law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, correctional institutions are not to prohibit the exercise of inmates' religious freedom, as long as the practice of the recognized religion does not compromise the safety of other inmates or the staff, said Joe Weedon, manager of government affairs for the American Correctional Association.

Weedon said he doesn't think numbers have been compiled on how many inmates across the United States practice Satanism.

The challenge for Kentucky officials will be to determine whether satanic services compromise safety at the prisons.

Kentucky officials have learned that policies in other states vary. For instance, prison officials in Texas, where 150 inmates say they follow Satanism, prohibit the services.

"We've looked at the satanic bible ... and are convinced that what it advocates would put our prisons at risk, safety-wise," said Donald Kaspar, chaplain for the Texas system. "One of their tenets is revenge -- if somebody hurts you, hurt them back."

Witchcraft as it relates to Wicca, a pagan religion that sees the divine in every element of nature, is viewed more favorably by prison officials across the country. By some estimates, there are at least 50,000 Wiccans in the United States and perhaps as many as 200,000. Not all Wiccans, however, consider themselves witches.

In January, Wisconsin hired the Rev. Jamyi Witch (she adopted the last name years ago) as the first Wiccan priestess in the nation to serve as a full-time state prison chaplain.

Wiccans do practice magic, but it involves focusing psychic energy on a worthy goal, using meditation to achieve good. Wiccans say that magic is just another word for prayer and it can be used only for healing. Wiccans are forbidden to use magic to enact curses.

"We don't have any materials that indicate that Wicca compromises the safety of the institutions," Carnahan said.

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