Mark Butler of Acts 17:28 Ministries petitioned Delaware County commissioners Thursday, Oct. 18, to be allowed to launch a mentorship program for black men incarcerated in the county jail.
Butler already has been denied approval for his program by Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin and jail Director Joseph Lynch.
"Unfortunately, the program has been denied because the (jail) administration feels it would be discriminatory to other inmates," Butler told the board. "I find that absurd."
He pointed out nearly half of all prison inmates in Ohio are black men, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 12.5 percent of the population.
"What I'm trying to do is a grass-roots initiative in the county jail," Butler said. "I have the experience to meet this problem (of African-American male recidivism) and I want to make this (issue) public."
Commissioner Ken O'Brien thanked Butler for his comments but told him "the board doesn't have authority over the jail. The person you really need to reach out to is Sheriff Martin and I encourage you to reach out to him (again)."
Butler praised the state's and the county's efforts to reduce recidivism and to facilitate prisoners' re-entry into society but told the board those "model programs" frequently fail the black prison population.
"I have lived in Delaware for 12 years and have volunteered at the jail for three years," he said. "I know what's working and not working for African-American males. The problem is, there's no cultural piece that's involved, no cultural perspective. As an African-American male and having some life experience and having (already) worked at ... the Marion Correctional Institution, I've established a similar program to the one I'm proposing now and it works."
Commissioner Tommy Thompson shared Martin's and Lynch's concern that Butler's program might be discriminatory.
"I would like to see a program that was for the inmates in general and that didn't exclude Caucasians, Asians, Latinos or whatever," he said. "Perhaps with your input and the input of other churches like yours, you might be able to have a greater impact on African-American individuals, but I wouldn't want to exclude all the other inmates who might be incarcerated."
Board President Dennis Stapleton promised Butler that he'd "talk to the sheriff and the director and arrange a meeting between them, myself and you. I can't promise anything, but I'm willing to do that."