Center for Church and Prison Director, Rev. George Walters-Sleyon says, There Are Too Many Black People in Prison and It’s Time for the Black Church to Do Something About It

Center for Church and Prison Director, Rev. George Walters-Sleyon
Center for Church and Prison Director, Rev. George Walters-Sleyon

The Rev. George Walters-Sleyon has a problem.

His predicament is that there are too many black people in prison in Massachusetts and throughout the United States.

Walters-Sleyon, the Liberian-born executive director of the Dorchester-based Center for Church and Prison, now wants the black church to offer a solution.

“There is a feeling that the black church has not collectively responded to this crisis,” he said. “From my tradition … the role of the church is to highlight human dignity and mandate fairness, equality and justice. We are not getting this from the black church right now.”

Walters-Sleyon — who is completing his doctorate in religion and philosophy at Boston University — believes that because the church is the most organized African-American institution, it is obligated to address disproportionate black incarceration “which is negatively impacting the black family.”

The reverend says the root of the problem is white racism, leading to targeting and sentencing blacks to jail at disproportionate rates.

To me, this is too simplistic. But to be fair, there is data that partly support Walters-Sleyon’s view.

According to research from the Center for Church and Prison, blacks in Massachusetts represent 7 percent of the total population. Yet, blacks account for 39 percent of those incarcerated, including juveniles.

A 2013 study released by the Pew Research Center found that black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men and that this trend is widening. Black female incarcerations show a similar pattern.

“The numbers are tragic … and church leaders need to be more informed and more active … to create policy solutions,” added Walters-Sleyon, who is spearheading a three-day conference addressing the problem at Roxbury’s St. John Missionary Church next month.

However tragic these statistics are, it’s still fair to question Walters-Sleyon’s analysis.

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Source: Boston Herald | Kevin C. Peterson

Kevin C. Peterson is the founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Talk back at

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