ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- A multi-faith conference centered around criminal justice reform is convening in Atlanta.
It’s called “End Mass Incarceration Conference,” the brainchild of Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Raphael Warnock. The three-day event is taking place at Ebenezer.
Warnock has long focused on helping end mass incarceration.
He said the church leaders should be at the front of the changes they wish to see happening.
“We have not seen the faith community stand up in a way that we can and the way that we should,” Warnock told CBS46’s Hayley Mason. “That’s really the purpose of the conference is to use resources that are in churches and synagogues and mosques, to speak to this larger issue and we felt that it was appropriate that Ebenezer should lead the way.”
He’s focusing on eliminating cash bail bonds and helping inmates who need financial help. He’s also hosting a record expungement clinic at the conference.
“There are literally thousands of Georgians right now who are languishing in Georgia jails and prisons and they’ve never been convicted of anything,” Warnock said. “They are awaiting trial and they are there because they are a danger to society, but simply because they can’t afford bail,” he added.
Actor Chris Tucker and Rapper T.I. have already stepped up to help.
“We’ve been bailing people out of jail all weekend, who are only there because they can’t afford the bail, not because they’re a danger,” Warnock went on.
For Warnock, this movement is personal. His brother has been in prison for the last 22 years. He is serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug charge.
The interactive conference kicked off with a life-size replica of a solitary confinement prison cell. Johnny Perez explained to a group of attendees that he spent three years in solitary confinement following a marijuana charge as a teenager in New York City.
“You don’t have to be arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison, like myself, to see the inside of a cell,” Perez told the attendees. “We bring the cell to you,” he added.
Perez serves as director of a criminal justice reform group called the U.S. Prisons Program. It aims to highlight the torture inmates experience in U.S. prisons and solitary confinement.
“As I heard them speak about the issues, it just struck a fire in me because it made realize that there are a lot of people just like me that are facing problems that I couldn’t even fathom, said conference volunteer Kobe McClusky.
Warnock said criminal justice in America is worse now than it was during the era of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when it comes to racial disparities.
“All of the issues that Dr. King was fighting against: voting discrimination, job discrimination, housing discrimination, people circulate out of the system and they still experience all of those barriers.”
He admits mass incarceration is a mammoth topic to tackle and an even harder industry to challenge.
“There are many ways of addressing this issue and what we hope to do at this conference including the other faith leaders and activists and grass roots organizers is to give them the tools towards addressing this issue,” Warnock said.
The conference ends Wednesday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. For information visit the Conference website by clicking here.