Making a change: local pastor wants to help lower Louisiana's incarceration rate

Photo provided by staff.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 5:31pm

UPDATED: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 9:07am

Louisiana has more people in jail, per capita, than in any other state, but a local pastor is trying to change that.

For Pastor Anthony Kelley, this is part of his calling. He works to rehabilitate prisoners, but he said he needs some help. So he's getting started at Southern University.

He's a pastor and a family man, but he said the man he is today is all thanks to God.

"I could have been one of those people in there if it wasn't for the grace of God and for people spending time with me," Kelley said.

It's part of why he became a prison ministry leader. He's been doing it for more than 30 years, and it's not easy.

"Having to be face to face with a criminal, with a murderer," Kelley said.

After all these years, there's one story that's stuck with him.

"He murdered members of his family including his children and their mother," Kelley said.

At first, he was disgusted, but he never walked away.

"It's not ignoring the gravity of what he did," Kelley admitted. "In fact, I had to overcome that problem of not even wanting to deal with him."

That's why he wrote this book "How Shall They Hear?" It's about how to effectively communicate with and rehabilitate prisoners. Something he wants other people to do too.

"I really wanted them to feel the urgency of why we should engage in reclaiming and restoring human beings," Kelley said.

So Pastor Kelley goes around the state talking to communities about what they can do to keep people out of jail. Wednesday, he visited the students at Southern University.

"What they can do now in terms of helping to prevent a lot of young children and young people from getting involved in the criminal justice system in the wrong way," Kelley said.

Pastor Kelley said these students are the future. Change starts with them.

Pastor Kelley will meet with the Capital Area Re-Entry Coalition Thursday in hopes to get more community groups involved in making a change.

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