Some north Baton Rouge religious leaders are asking their communities to help them tackle black juvenile crime and dropout rates by strengthening family relationships.
The Rev. Donald Hunter, one of the pastors leading the effort, said a large number of black children are growing up without fathers, which puts them at a greater risk of turning to crime.
“When the father is not there carrying out his rightful responsibility to his family, in particular the children, it’s like a house without a roof on it,” said Hunter, pastor of New Beginning Baptist Church. “It exposes that family to more negative elements.”
Black youths represent the majority of juvenile offenders who went through the East Baton Rouge Parish juvenile justice system last year, Hunter said.
Of the 4,024 juveniles prosecuted in 2010, 92 percent were black, according to statistics Hunter obtained from the city-parish Department of Juvenile Services.
“These statistics speak to what is going on in the home,” Hunter said. “They scream that the family structure is broken and that something is seriously wrong.”
To try to repair black families and stem the tide of juvenile crime among area black youths, Hunter and about a dozen other local pastors are trying to implement a parishwide counseling initiative.
The initiative would employ trained volunteers to counsel delinquent youths and their families, Hunter said. The counseling would focus on improving family dynamics and teaching skills such as problem solving and moral reasoning.
Families would receive no less than 50 hours of counseling, and those sessions would take place in the family’s home or at an area church or school, Hunter said.
Juvenile judges, churches and other community organizations would identify those in need of such services, he said.
“Counseling has been proven to work when traditional methods such as DARE, Scared Straight and boot camps have not,” Hunter said, citing a study done by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute
“We want to do what works,” he said.
To get an idea of how receptive the community is to such a plan, Hunter and the other pastors recently conducted a survey of their congregations and nearby residents.
The survey asked questions about family patterns, juvenile delinquency, poverty and juvenile justice reform.
It also asked if people would be willing to be counseled or become volunteer counselors, and if professional counselors would be willing to train the volunteers.
The survey’s results will be announced and discussed at a public meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the S.E. Mackey Center.
Pastor Keyno Spurlock of Greater Beach Grove Baptist Church said at least 300 of his parishioners have taken the survey. Spurlock said he wanted his congregation to participate because he is concerned about the families in his area.
“One thing that we understand is that there are some members that there is not a male figure in the household,” he said. “We look at that as an opportunity to make a positive stand toward black males taking their responsibilities.”
Richard Allmon, pastor of Full Gospel United Pentecostal, agreed and said that “when the black male is educated, equipped, trained, able to get a job and understand what his role is, he’ll be able to keep the family together, and as result, we hope that it affects the juvenile crime rate and dropout rate.”
Catherine Dunn, a member of New Beginning Baptist Church, said she took the survey to help all young black men she knows, including her sons who have criminal histories.
“No one wants to give them a chance,” Dunn said. “Everyone can change.”
Renoda Robertson, also a New Beginning Baptist Church member, said she will take the survey because she does not want her children to “go through what I went through.”
Robertson said her parents separated when she was young, and she spent time living with both of them. She said life with her dad was structured, but living with her drug-addicted mom led to a downward spiral in her life — including getting pregnant at 16.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a two-parent household,” Robertson said. “I just think it depends on the person.”