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