Gov. Nathan Deal believes the state can rehabilitate criminals through the prison system, but it will take churches to transform their lives, a representative from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said Tuesday.
David Jordan, faith and community partnership coordinator for the Governor’s Initiative of Transition, Support and Reentry, made his comments while the keynote speaker at the third annual Pastors and Faith-based Community Luncheon hosted by the Urban League of Greater Columbus.
Speaking at the Columbus Civic Center, Jordan unveiled a “Healing Communities and Stations of Hope” initiative to engage churches and other faith-based community groups in ministering to citizens returning from prison.
“We have five percent of the world population (in the United States) and 25 percent of the world’s population behind bars,” said Jordan, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. “And as faith leaders, we need our people to be concerned about those who are incarcerated, our returning citizens, their families, and also the survivors of crime. And through our initiative of Healing Communities we’re able to do that.”
Jordan said 97 percent of prisoners return to their communities and the governor’s initiative focuses on reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness and grace. He said the state wants to partner with local congregations so they can develop action plans and resources to help ex-prisoners become productive citizens.
“What better way than to have faith communities acting as stations of hope to welcome and to minister to those returning citizens, whether it’s through housing, or mentoring their children, or mentoring them?” he asked. “In church, they call it discipleship. With the state, we call it mentoring. But we get involved in the lives of individuals and we make a difference in their lives through our congregations and through our members by educating and helping to remove that stigma and that shame so that we might remove barriers so there’s more of an opportunity for success for our returning citizens.”
His audience consisted of about 45 people, which included black Christian ministers, Urban League staff and board members, as well as representatives from the National of Islam. Also in attendance was Jay Neal, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry. He was introduced by Monica Echols, a local liaison for the governor’s reentry initiative who is based in Columbus. She said her job is to mobilize the community for the project.
Neal said Columbus is one of six communities that currently have a reentry council set up by the governor’s office, and he hopes to eventually have the councils statewide. He said criminal justice reform has been a priority ever since Deal was elected to office. At the time, one in 13 adults was under some form of correctional supervision, compared to the national average of one 21, he said. The correction’s budget was $1.2 billion and growing.
Neal said the state has been able to reduce the number of prisoners in the state from about 63,000 to 58,000 through accountability courts and other programs, and Georgia is becoming a model for national prison reform.
“One of the things we found is, of those coming into the prison system, a majority of them were coming in for non-violent, drug-related offenses,” he said. “We were putting people in prison who weren’t criminally-minded, but they were behaving criminally as a result of their addiction. And the reality is, if you can take care of the addiction and get them in recovery, for many of those, the criminal behavior goes away.”
In addition to hearing from state officials, the pastors also received an update from Susan Cooper, president of the Urban League. She and other officers asked the ministers to sign up for Urban League Sundays, which will be held during the month of September. On the Sundays chosen, Urban League representatives will attend the church services to promote the work of the Urban League, Cooper said.
Alfonza Whitaker, the organization’s treasurer, asked churches to collect an offering for the organization during their Urban League Sundays and to encourage members to register to be a part of the organization.
Pastors also were asked to purchase $750 sponsorship packages for the organization’s Equal Opportunity Dinner, which will be held in October.
Cooper said the Urban League will also continue to work with the state and churches on the prison reentry program.
“We’re actually going to change the name of the prison reentry program here in Columbus for the Urban League,” she said. “Prison reentry to me sounds like you’re going back in. So we’re looking on all of our paperwork at changing it to Community Reentry.”
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.