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Jacksonville Journey's Faith-Based Initiative

City Turns to Faith Leaders to Help Fight Crime

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Jacksonville Journey's Faith-Based Initiative

Major John Peyton and Rev. Eugene Rivers announce Jacksonville Journey's faith-based initiative.

Photo © City of Jacksonville
They don't wear badges or tote guns. Instead, they don crosses and carry Bibles. But city leaders are counting on Jacksonville's clergy members to help beat crime in some of the area's most violent neighborhoods. Their influence is part of Jacksonville Journey, a community-wide initiative to reduce crime by effectively addressing its root causes.

"As violent crime continues to make headlines and devastate families and neighborhoods, it has become clear that law enforcement, while important, can treat only the symptoms of this problem," Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton says. "It is time to address the root causes of crime in our city, and the process must involve all of us."

The Inspiration

A major focus of the program is to youth crime prevention. Much of Jacksonville's efforts are based on those of Rev. Eugene Rivers, Pastor of Boston's Azusa Christian Community, co-founder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition and co-chair of the National TenPoint Leadership Foundation. The organizations were borne of a 1992 incident in which gang members opened fire at the funeral of a young gunshot victim, turning the memorial into a battleground.

The coalition developed, and has since updated, a 10-point plan for addressing the issues of youth crime, particularly in black and Latino, low-income communities. The plan includes seeking alternative or reduced sentences for youth deserving of a second chance, street patrols, mentoring youth and standing by them at probation hearings and helping them to find jobs.

Proof Positive

Statistics show the plan works. In the first six years following its implementation in some of Boston's most notoriously violent neighborhoods, the city's homicide rate plunged 61.2 percent from 152 murders to 59. In 1998, the city reported 35 murders, representing a 77-percent drop. For the 29-month period ending in January 1998, there were no teenage murders. Other cities that have implemented the plan also report improved statistics.

Jacksonville aims to repeat that success. In 2006, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reported 110 murders, a 20.9-percent increase over 2005's 91 murders. Incidents of rape increased as well, from 189 in 2005 to 218 in 2006 - a 15.3-percent jump.

Tailored Plan

Jacksonville's plan includes capital improvements to the Juvenile Assessment Center, a facility where law enforcement personnel assess and detain youth offenders. Funds from the state and from local drug arrest forfeitures recently were secured to repair and reopen the center, which budget cuts shut down two years ago.

Other plans include developing a re-entry program that provides job and life skills training to inmates and encouraging private and public agencies to provide more job opportunities to rehabilitated individuals who are sincere about changing their lives for the better. Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin of the 5,000-member Potter's House Christian Fellowship on Jacksonville's Westside helps lead the local initiative.

10 Ways to Save a Community

Rev. Rivers' TenPoint Plan implores clergy members in cities nationwide to implement these not-so-simple, but effective steps:
  1. Develop an Adopt-a-Gang program to reach out to troubled youth;
  2. Commission missionaries to advocate for juveniles in court;
  3. Have evangelists meet with drug dealers;
  4. Develop economic development projects;
  5. Establish links between core city and suburban churches;
  6. Begin and support neighborhood watch programs;
  7. Counsel families in crisis through relationships with health centers;
  8. Convene summits for minorities to find alternatives to gang life;
  9. Establish rape crisis centers;
  10. Include struggles of women and the poor in curriculum.

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