Chaplain Speaks Out On Jail Conditions, Banned
ABILENE, TX – Lance Voorhees, a former volunteer chaplain at the Taylor County Jail, and current volunteer chaplain at the Taylor County Juvenile Justice Center, sued Sheriff Les Bruce today, alleging he is retaliating against him for exercising his free speech rights. After Voorhees publicly criticized conditions in the Jail and alleged abuse there, Bruce barred him from ministering to prisoners.
“Preventing someone from volunteering their time to help rehabilitate prisoners because he was critical of the Jail is outrageous,” said Mr. Voorhees’ attorney, Todd Batson. “Mr. Voorhees should be commended for his dedication to ministering to the inmates held in the jail, not punished for speaking the truth about what he saw behind prison bars and what inmates relayed to him,” said Batson, Civil Rights Fellow for the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Mr. Voorhees began ministering to inmates in the Juvenile Justice Center in 2002. He was ordained in 1997 and has two decades of unique experience ministering to youth. In 2005, Taylor County Detention Ministries named him “Volunteer of the Year.” During his ministry, inmates, their relatives, county employees, and medical personnel told him about numerous instances of prisoner abuse. These reports included claims that inmates were subjected to dog bites, were restrained in a chair and beaten or pepper sprayed, that certain inmates were systematically beaten, and that an asthmatic inmate was forced to crawl across the floor to reach his medication.
“I just want to make sure these inmates’ voices are heard and that the alleged abuse is investigated and remedied,” explained Mr. Voorhees. “I never thought the Sheriff would prevent me from praying with them and for speaking about what I saw in the jail.”
“When we learned about this problem, we knew this issue was important,” said Batson. “The County should encourage other people to volunteer to help prisoners, not punish those who do for speaking out about what they see inside.”