Delaware News

Leaders hear renewed plea for prison ministry

Commissioners see program that would focus on county jail's black inmates as discriminatory


Acts 17:28 Ministry founder Mark Butler appeared, with two allies in tow, before Delaware County commissioners Thursday, Nov. 8, to ask a second time for their approval of his mentorship program that would focus solely on black inmates at the county jail.

"I'm not directing my comments only to the three commissioners but to the community at large," Butler said. "I thought this would be an excellent forum to let the community know about the problem we have with African-American incarceration in the county and the state.

"African-Americans make up only 11.5 percent of the population here in Ohio, yet the incarceration rate for African-Americans is nearly 50 percent in the state," he said. "Currently at the Delaware County jail, it's 16 percent and growing."

Butler said his community initiative consists of black and white pastors "who care about the disparity in the conviction rates and sentencing of African-Americans."

The Rev. Lamont Coates and deacon Gerald Singleton of Delaware's Second Missionary Baptist Church both spoke to the commissioners on Butler's behalf.

"I am in support of the initiative that Pastor Butler is attempting to initiate at the Delaware County jail," Coates said. "We have a prevention program that is working at our church for African-American males and the community at large. I have a ministry that is inclusive for all.

"But I know there are issues, especially in the Second Ward area," he said. "There is a large number of African-American males already in the system, so we're trying to come up with something that targets that (prison) population and their behavior."

He said Butler's program would educate and empower black men in particular.

"If African-Americans don't keenly know their heritage and history, they won't have a sense of self-worth and those individuals will go out and do senseless and nonproductive things," Coates said.

Butler does not want to "discriminate or eliminate but to incorporate," he said. "If we're going to all-out rehabilitate these individuals, the community and the church both have their roles to play."

County Sheriff Russ Martin and jail Director Joseph Lynch twice have denied Butler's request on the grounds that a program that is specifically geared toward black men would be discriminatory to other prison populations.

Singleton oversees his church's prison ministry.

"Something has got to happen to end this revolving door," he said. "We're just going around in circles and circles and circles. These African-American inmates -- and the program might be expanded to include Latinos and whites -- but they need role models, someone to sit them down and say, 'This is what's got to happen.' "

Commissioner Tommy Thompson said his son is a pastor in California "and his church ministers to 37 different (prison) cultures, which is why I'm so strongly in favor of inclusive programs. It's not only African-Americans. If somebody needs the ministry, they should be included in the program. Anytime we segregate out a part of the program, we're wrong."

Martin dispatched new county Chief Deputy Pat Yankie to meet and mediate with Butler, Coates and Singleton.

"Instead of these monologues, we need to have a dialogue, after this meeting, to see if we can find common ground," Yankie said.