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What's New at The First 72 Newsletter-- February 2021


What’s New at The First 72?

All of us in the New Orleans Criminal Justice Reform world have been closely watching the transition of power that is taking place in the New Orleans District Attorney office. On January 11th, newly elected Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams stated in his inaugural address: Together we will end the normalization of incarceration.”

In this moment, it hit many of us how truly historic this transition of power is-- for our work, for our community, for how our society collectively understands the criminal justice system.

While on the campaign trail, Williams committed to breaking from the norms of the past DA’s office by ending punative practices like using habitual offender laws, prosecuting low level marijuana charges, charging juveniles in adult court, and seeking out the death penalty. He also committed to ending money bail. While there are many people who feel hesitant or even critical of the role of the “progressive prosecutor” in transforming our criminal justice system, one thing is for certain: we’ve never been closer to a truly fair, truly equitable, truly safe New Orleans, and it feels fantastic.

In his inaugural address, we were excited to hear Williams emphasize the importance of working directly with those of us in the New Orleans Re-entry community, while also signaling that we must simultaneously address the root cause-- we must challenge the logic of incarceration altogether:

You can watch the full inauguration ceremony HERE.


Help us keep up Ben's fight for state IDs!

On November 16, 2020 New Orleans lost a giant. One of the very first things that Ben did, with every person he drove home from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, was to take them to get their birth certificate, social security card, and state ID - documents that can take weeks, even months, when you are released without them, and without which you cannot access many reentry resources, food stamps, medicaid, a job, or a place to live. Ben helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people in New Orleans get their IDs, often coming out of his own pocket.

So, to keep up Ben's fight we are selling t-shirts and hoodies, all proceeds will go to help our clients pay the costs associated with accessing these vital documents ($15 - $70 / person). Thank you to the brilliant, and compassionate, and wonderful Micah Bazant (@micahbazant) for creating such a beautiful memorial to our dear, dear friend.

To support our fundraiser and buy a T-shirt or hoodie, click here!


Looking for ways to support The First 72+?

We’re looking for support from the community for a few different projects, reach out to our volunteer coordinator with interest and questions.

  • Volunteer to do covid-vaccine outreach in our community! As the covid vaccine becomes more widely available in Louisiana, we want to make sure that getting vaccinated is accessible to those in our community, and that accurate information about the process is available to everyone. Volunteers will be calling current and past clients to share information about vaccine availability and help coordinate logistics if needed. Volunteering will be remote, and hours are flexible.

  • Donate to our food pantry! Many in our community face food insecurity when they come home from prison, with lots of folks having to wait weeks before getting approved for SNAP benefits. In order to fill that gap, we're creating a mini food pantry! Non-perishable food donations can be dropped off 9-5 Monday-Friday at our office (2917 Perdido street). We're also accepting frozen meat and vegetables, connect with Juliana to coordinate a drop off time for frozen items.

  • Donate furniture and basic home goods to our clients! We’re continuing to collect good quality furniture and basic home goods for our clients who are moving into new housing. We are often looking for items such as: TV’s, couches, bedside tables, kitchen tables, dish sets, pots and pans and living room furniture. Reach out with a description of the items, and we’ll let you know if we have the storage space to accept them!


Intersections of Incarceration: Prisons and Profits

We encourage our team, our clients, and our supporters to explore a diverse array of opinions and outlooks on how to keep our communities safe and reduce our dependence on incarceration. Every month we find authors whose perspectives are shaping this debate, and we have featured some of these voices below.

Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing the Justice Department not to renew any of their contracts with for-profit, privately operated prisons. While many are very excited about this move to end the private prison industry-- an industry that has rightfully received significant public attention with its endless documented abuses-- others argue that it is merely symbolic, and are highlighting the fact that the private sector plays a tremendous and insidious role in our public prisons, not just private prisons.

Focusing solely on the private prison industry, which only incarcerates less than 1/10 of the prison population, can obscure the ways in which our public prisons are “essentially privatised”. Largely hidden from public view, public prisons and jails across the US outsource their core services to private companies, such as healthcare, food, transportation, financial services and messaging, phone and video calls. The organization Worth Rises, which focuses on the role of the private sector in the prison system, has documented over 4,100 corporations that profit from mass incarceration in their report “Mapping Private Sector Players”.

Those in favor of privatization of these services argue that it allows for increased efficiency, improves the quality of services, and lowers costs for the government and taxpayers alike. However, the quality of privatized services are often very poor- and sometimes deadly- while the prices to incarcerated people and their families are exorbitant and exploitative. Additionally, the cost efficiency of private prison services are marginal, and advocates argue that any cost-saving benefits that do exist are far outweighed by the detrimental effects.

If we want to address the injustices of our prison system, it is essential that we understand the central role that for-profit companies play in our system of mass incarceration, and their vested, profit-driven interest in the continual expansion of our prison system.


Community Announcements

Help Chopper Start His Holistic Dream: After being incarcerated 28 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Chopper is raising money to build his own apothecary and develop a holistic healing sanctuary to help people in his community heal.

The ReEntry Mediation Institute of Louisiana (REMILA) is currently recruiting applicants to be professionally trained mediators for their Re-Entry Mediation program. The program aims to decrease recidivism rates and improve a person’s transition home from incarceration with the sustainable support of positive relationships with loved ones. Selected applicants will receive a free 50-hour professional mediation training and be compensated for mediating cases between incarcerated people and their loved ones inside of Department of Corrections facilities.


Thanks for reading!

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