ICARE Clergy to Sheriff: Better Serve Ex-Offenders

On March 27, 2017, 1,500 people in ICARE, an interfaith coalition of 38 local congregations, gathered at Abyssinia Baptist Church for an assembly addressing the problem of ex-offender re-entry. We heard from a former Jacksonville Reentry Center (JREC) client, Darian Jones. He spent 13 years in prison, and JREC was there before his release to start helping with the transition. Jones went on to receive assistance in the form of food, clothing, housing and proper I.D. In the five years since his release, Jones has not been re-arrested and has graduated from Florida State College at Jacksonville. This story received a standing ovation from the people in Abyssinia Baptist Church that night.

This kind of success is why we were so excited that JREC was getting more funding. Nearly three-fourths of JREC clients do not re-offend within one year. In 2016, Sheriff Mike Williams agreed to add $900,000 from a state grant to JREC’s budget, bringing the overall budget to $1.5 million and serving an additional 400 clients. This expansion of JREC would help reduce crime and save the city money in the process. So we were shocked to learn that the sheriff had to return more than $600,000 of this money back to the state because it went unused.

Because of this, 400 people were not able to access a national model for re-entry to get their lives back on track. We have asked Sheriff Williams to make a plan to recover JREC’s budget to $1.5 million. Unfortunately, he is not yet willing to even ask for money from the city or the state to restore this budget. We are not clear what the sheriff wins by not serving ex-offenders, but we are very clear that 400 people re-entering each year lose when our sheriff does not invest in successful re-entry.

JREC is a program that prevents crime by ex-offenders, saves money on jail costs and, most important, changes the lives of people like Darian Jones every day. Just last fiscal year, JREC helped the city save more than $6 million in jail costs alone. Sheriff Williams has said to us that preventive measures deserve to be a funding priority in his office. We urge the sheriff to demonstrate his priorities through action and make an investment in public safety and re-entry that has been proven to work. We invite those of you reading this to do the same. Join us  at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 23 at Abyssinia Baptist Church, 10325 Interstate Center Dr., Northside, 696-1770, to witness to Sheriff Williams that you care about what JREC can do for this community.

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Signed by Clergy of ICARE: Reverend James Wiggins Jr., St. Paul Lutheran Church; Reverend Erin Dickey, Riverside Avenue Christian Church; Father Tim Lozier, Most Holy Redeemer Church; Cantor Jesse Holzer, Jacksonville Jewish Center; Reverend Bill Hoff,  Riverside Presbyterian Church; Reverend Phillip Baber, Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville; Reverend Roger Williams, Philip R. Cousin AME Church; Reverend Troy Ray, Lakeshore United Methodist Church; Reverend Tan Moss, Greater Grant Memorial AME Church; Reverend Dr. James Proctor, Greater Grant Memorial AME Church; Reverend Wendell Webster, Fountain Chapel AME Church; Reverend Kenneth Emanuel, Second Missionary Baptist Church.

ICARE (Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment) is a multifaith alliance comprising 38 congregations, representing more than 30,000 Jacksonville residents.

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