Monday, April 12, 2004

NAACP program helps get prisoners ready for freedom

The Associated Press

MANSFIELD, Ohio - The NAACP is taking its message inside prison walls to help inmates make a smoother transition to life on the outside.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons reactivated its Prison Project in 2001, and now Ohio has more chapters than any other state.

The program is part of an effort to address the disproportionate number of blacks in prison. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction statistics show that 49 percent of prisoners in the state are black.

The project is intended to help inmates take advantage of the NAACP's network of support from churches, businesses and other groups.

The chapter at Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, which started in 2002, was the first chartered in more than 10 years.

Chapter President Bernard Croom, 34, recently led a meeting of 88 men, giving them advice for the future.

"You need to be about getting it together and getting off these streets," Croom, who is also an inmate, told them.

More than 800 inmates at prisons in Mansfield, Marion, Noble, North Central, Richland and Trumbull are getting similar advice through NAACP chapters. There are more than two dozen chapters nationally with more than 2,000 members. Prisoners pay $12 annual dues.

NAACP officials want the program to pay off by stopping inmates from committing crimes after they're released.

Dennis Baker, deputy warden of special services at Richland and senior adviser of the NAACP prison chapter, said the re-entry activities include job-readiness workshops, job fairs and leadership training.

"Many are in an organization for the first time, and they are learning to be leaders and followers for the right reasons," Baker said of prison members. "They are learning to deal effectively with adversity."

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