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Ohio Is OK With Wine Communions In State Prisons, But Many County Jails Don't Allow It

Michael Davis is the Religious Services Administrator for the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. His work with chaplains focuses on services that provide religious fulfillment and help prison inmates eventually re-enter society.
Chloe Murdock
/
WYSO
Michael Davis is the Religious Services Administrator for the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. His work with chaplains focuses on services that provide religious fulfillment and help prison inmates eventually re-enter society.

For a while now, state prisons have semi-officially been letting priests bring in sacramental wine for inmates' communions. Ohio’s new state budget now makes it legal. But even before COVID-19 locked down inmate communions, county jail inmates only received grape juice.

Michael Davis is the Religious Services Administrator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He oversees religious services for all state prisons. He says that Ohio prisons allow chaplains to bring in small amounts of sacramental wine for the communions of inmates who are Catholic or Orthodox Christian.

“Wine is a central part of their religious practice," Davis says. "And so that’s why it’s been allowable in our institutions for well over a decade.”

But inmates in county jails don’t see a drop of that.

State prisons receive financial help from churches and other donors, and are able to pay their civil service chaplains. But county jails aren’t linked to that system. Each county jail has its own rules and fundraising, and relies on volunteer chaplains.

Don Meyer is a volunteer Catholic chaplain at the Hamilton County Justice Center.
Chloe Murdock
Don Meyer is a volunteer Catholic chaplain at the Hamilton County Justice Center. He says he was happy for inmates in state prisons, who often serve sentences longer than a year, but still wishes he could bring in sacramental wine for inmates he speaks with at the county jail level, who are usually facing misdemeanors or awaiting trail.

Don Meyer is the coordinating Catholic chaplain at the Hamilton County Justice Center in Cincinnati. Meyer says he wishes he could give sacramental wine during monthly mass ceremonies.

“Spiritually, there shouldn’t be a distinction,” Meyer says.

A 2017 Vatican letter says that only approved grape wines can be used as the blood of Christ for communion ceremonies. The one alternative is a crushed grape juice that hasn’t finished fermenting.

tony bailey (1).png
Chloe Murdock
Tony Bailey is a volunteer chaplain at the Clark County Jail alongside his paid position as a director of the nonprofit Key Vision, which provides educational TV programming for the jail's inmates. He says that one inmate told him that her pod group had increased thoughts of suicide during the pandemic lockdowns in the jail, which locked inmates in their cells for 21 hours a day.

Not all chaplains are rushing to bring in wine. Tony Bailey is a volunteer chaplain at the Clark County Jail. He says that they’ve always used grape juice. Once they can give communion again, he’s sticking with it.

“Addiction is a problem so great that we wouldn’t want to use alcohol,” Bailey says.