Alaska Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Winkelman

In what may well be a violation of the First Amendment, Alaska inmates are currently unable to participate in Catholic masses thanks to a new policy from the state corrections department, which effectively bans the use of sacramental altar wine in the state’s 14 prison facilities.

Signed on June 6 by Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Winkelman, the interim policy states that the purpose is to “modify the altar wine policy while, Faith-Based Programming and Chaplaincy Services is under review.”

The re-written policy states: “No altar wine or other alcoholic beverages will be used by anyone who is involved with any activity. The use of a non-alcoholic substitute (juice) for altar wine may be considered.”

Since all Catholic masses require at least a few ounces of wine to be used by the priest, the interim policy effectively bans clergy from offering mass to inmates.

The Alaska Watchman has reached out to the Department of Corrections and will include their response once it is received.

A spokesman for the DOC did speak to, saying the interim policy is a “temporary guidance as department reviews its policies.

“The final policy will be reviewed by the Department of Law to ensure the appropriate balance between security in DOC facilities and inmates ability to practice their religious beliefs,” the spokesperson told “Alaska DOC’s previous policy allowed altar wine with approval of the superintendent or chaplaincy coordinators, but to our knowledge altar wine has never been approved,” she added.

In fact, altar wine has been used for years by priests offering mass to Alaska’s inmates. This is not the first time, however, that Catholic chaplains have been hampered from celebrating mass in Alaska’s prisons. More than a decade ago, Father Thomas Brundage was prohibited from bringing in a small vial of wine to offer mass at the Palmer Correctional Center. That policy was quickly reversed, with an apology.

In a 2010 article Brundage specifically recounted the incident.

“After being berated for 10 minutes by the second in command of the prison, I was able to later on show them that even on their Web page (it) lists the procedure for bringing in wine for those churches that use wine, and the founders of the constitution would be turning over in their graves knowing that a denomination would have to change the way they worshiped that day, because of state officials,” Brundage recalled at  the time.

He added that prison officials eventually apologized and allowed him to celebrate Mass, with the necessary altar wine, which only he consumed.

According to Catholic teaching, all Catholics are bound to attend Sunday mass, if possible. This celebration requires the priest to use a few ounces of wine, which Catholics believe is transformed into the sacramental blood of Christ.

During a typical prison mass, the priest consumes the wine, while inmates are given the consecrated hosts, derived from bread.

Nevertheless, a valid Catholic mass requires the priest to at least consecrate and consume both species himself during the liturgy.

Federal court president has upheld the right of inmates to access Catholic mass, including the use altar wine in the liturgy.

While Alaska’s interim policy allows for the use of a “non-alcoholic substitute (juice)” with approval, this is not permitted during Mass, according to Catholic faith.

This is a developing story.


— Click here to contact Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

— To contact Corrections Commissioner Jen Winkelman, call (907) 334-2381 or email:

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Interim policy bans Catholic mass in Alaska prisons

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.