Ellison says he'll aggressively recruit ministers of all faiths and denominations and create a six-week "chaplain academy" that they must undergo before beginning work at the jail. Religious counselors will be taught how to address problems common among inmates: depression, suicide, HIV, homelessness, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Although Ellison is a conservative Pentecostal minister, he wants his chaplains to be sensitive in dealing with men who are homosexual: "Sometimes the religious groups hit 'em upside the head," he says.
The overall goal of bringing in more faith-based counseling is to help inmates solve their problems and take a different path, he says: "When the inmates leave, we want them to stay out. We want them to get their lives together." He also plans to recruit local businesses to provide jobs for inmates once they're released.
Ellison has made headlines through the years for reaching out to city youth, for seeking federal funds for faith-based programs locally and, last year, for facing sexual abuse accusations by a teenage girl in his custody. All charges were later dropped.
For 15 years, Ellison has been the pastor at Essex Village, a low-income neighborhood in Henrico County. His congregation protested his departure. "Ah, they're pissed off," Ellison says with a laugh. He fears the church there may close, because it's a rough area and it will be difficult to find someone to take his place, he says. But he embraces his new position. "I'm called to the city," he says.
Ellison's appointment is just the first of many Woody is making as he prepares to take office. "I'm not going in there to try to fire anybody," he said before being elected. Then, in Wilderesque fashion, he added, "I believe in hiring your own staff." Melissa Scott Sincalir
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