Delaware News

County leaders nix prison ministry; protest planned

County sheriff: Program needs to apply to a broader base of prisoners

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Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin and county jail Director Joseph Lynch declined this week to accept a mentorship program proposed by Mark Butler of Acts 17:28 Ministries that would focus on black prisoners.

Butler, who has served as a volunteer chaplain at the Delaware County jail and ministered to black inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution, said he is planning a public demonstration to protest Martin's and Lynch's decision Friday, Nov. 2, in front of the Kern Building, 17 N. Sandusky St.

"I've met with the sheriff and the director twice and they've told me my program would be discriminatory to the other inmates," Butler said, "but 50 percent of the prison inmates in Ohio and in the nation are African-American. It's an epidemic and I'm trying to do something about that incarceration rate."

Martin said there were two primary reasons that he was uncomfortable with Butler's proposal.

"When Joe and I met with Mark the first time, we told him we'd need to have a working plan and a curriculum before we could even consider his program," he said. "What we got back was a less-than-one-page summary. It just wasn't enough information."

The sheriff also pointed out that black men make up just 16 percent of the Delaware County jail population, far below the national and statewide averages. White men account for about 53 percent of the jail population.

"I wasn't satisfied we knew enough about the substance of the program," Martin said, "and I think we have a broader need in our jail than to cater specifically to one group rather than to all our groups."

Delaware County received more than $1 million in 2011 from the federal government's Second Chance Act grant program to assist with prisoner re-entry into society and to reduce recidivism rates.

Lynch said the jail simply isn't allowed to discriminate between various portions of the prison population.

"Every inmate who meets the criteria spelled out in the grant, regardless of his or her race, is eligible for re-entry services," he said. "Our goal is to help every prisoner who qualifies to prepare themselves for assimilation back into the real world. We don't want to see them again."

Butler said while he applauds the jail's re-entry program, he is concerned that the recidivism rates of black men will remain high without his "culturally specific" program.

"My curriculum doesn't necessarily apply to the Caucasian or to the Hispanic populations," he said. "I work towards empowerment in part through the teaching of the African-American history that isn't taught in our schools. I instill pride."

Martin reiterated that his decision "had nothing to do with race" and added, "I have met with Mark several times. He can always get in touch with me, talk to me. I'm disappointed at what I'd characterize as grandstanding. I'm happy to continue a dialogue with him about his program."

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