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The First 72+ Wins Prestigious Paul H. Chapman Award from Foundation for Improvement of Justice

The First 72+ aims to reduce mass incarceration by providing free transitional housing, legal services, and peer mentorship to formerly incarcerated people.

New Orleans, LA – On September 23rd The Foundation for Improvement of Justice held its annual awards dinner in Atlanta, GA to celebrate organizations from across the country whose work has improved the justice systems in their region.

This year, The First 72+ was one of six organizations honored with this prestigious distinction. They received the award for their efforts to reduce the recidivism rate in New Orleans.

The Foundation for Improvement of Justice is a not-for-profit institution founded in 1984 for the purpose of improving local, state, and federal systems of justice within the United States of America. Each year, the Foundation accepts nominations for the Paul H. Chapman Award to recognize and reward individuals or organizations whose innovative programs and work have made improvements in the various systems of justice. Over $2,600,000 in cash awards have been distributed since 1986.

The First 72+ is a transitional housing and reentry program, which follows a single guiding principle – “us helping us.” Founded by six men who have all personally experienced the criminal justice system and helped one another upon release, the mission of The First 72+ is to stop the cycle that has led to a 50% recidivism rate for ex-offenders within the first two years of being released. For years prior to opening their first transitional house every member of the founding team of the nominee was providing various ad hoc services to people returning home. Using their own vehicles they would pick people up from the front gate, take them to eat, and get them a new pair of clothes so they would not have to see their families for the first time in their prison-issued uniforms. If they did not have a place to live they would let them sleep on their couches. In 2014, the team renovated an old bail bonds office to open a transitional house for formerly incarcerated people. This home is still the only transitional house in New Orleans dedicated exclusively to this crucial issue. Participants receive support during the crucial first three days of their release, including: transportation home from prison, clothes, food, transportation to social services, mentorship, and healthcare provided by local partners. Participants typically graduate from the program within three to six months.

This year, The First 72+ was nominated by former Orleans Public Defender, Kelly Orians. In her nomination Kelly wrote: “The nominee is the type of organization rarely seen – one started by and for the people most impacted. The benefit of their personal knowledge and experience with the obstacles their clients face is evidenced by their success. Not only have they created a vital, and until now virtually unavailable, resource for the city, they are on their way to creating a model that can be applied across the country.”

Co-founder and current board president, Calvin Duncan describes their work this way: “When I was in prison I would see guys released come back, and I would ask them, ‘what happened?’ They would always tell me that they could not find work or a place to live. I was in the same situation when I was finally released - homeless, with nothing but a $10 check. So, a group of us came together to start The First 72+, because no one should be homeless when they leave prison.”

In Louisiana over half of people released from prison will go back in five years. In New Orleans alone, 1 in 7 Black men are in prison or on probation/parole. The First 72+ puts a stop to this pattern by addressing its root causes: access to housing and employment. The program has served nearly 200 formerly incarcerated people, and not one has recidivated.

Along with receiving a plaque, a medal, and being able to join a prestigious alumni network, the Paul H. Chapman Award comes with a $10,000 cash prize.

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