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Mon August 26, 2013

Faith Groups Challenging Louisiana's High Incarceration Rate

Faith-based groups gathered at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Tremé to spread information about the state's high incarceration rate.
Credit Eileen Fleming / WWNO
Faith-based groups are working on political strategies for solving the state's high incarceration rate.

An interfaith coalition is calling on elected leaders to cut the number of people incarcerated in Louisiana. The group is highlighting prison population numbers as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for civil rights.

The Justice Department ranks Louisiana the number one state in the country for incarceration — 893 people behind bars for every 100,000.

About 50 people gathered outside the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Tremé recently to call for lowering those numbers.

Deacon Allen Stevens of St. Peter Claver says minorities are more likely to be jailed. And he says it’s not making the streets any safer.

“Instead of becoming more peaceful, New Orleans continues to compete annually for the number one spot in the nation — the murder capital,” Stevens said.   

Pastor Elenora Cushenberry of the Phillips Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church says faith-based groups are lobbying for change. The groups formed the Micah Project in 2007 to solve social problems with political action.

“In New Orleans, one in seven African-American men is currently behind bars, on probation or on parole," Cushenberry said. "This is not an accident. This is a result of decisions that have been made by public officials. Our faith community has had enough.”

A community meeting is planned for Wednesday evening at the Household of Faith Family Worship Church in New Orleans East — the exact anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Deacon Stevens says the public needs to make incarceration an election issue at the local and national levels. The meeting will help with that.

“I do believe a lot has been accomplished," Stevens said. "We’re just not done yet.”  

The group staged a second-line to distribute information about the issue and the upcoming meeting.