NAACP Holds Historic Workshop Inside Missouri Prison

By Robert Rooks and Dr. Niaz Kasravi

At the invitation of the Crossroads Correctional Center’s NAACP Prison Branch #4003, and in coordination with the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, the Criminal Justice Program of the NAACP participated in the first ever workshop that was held on the Saturday, before the start of the 101st NAACP Convention. For over a year, branch #4003 at the Crossroads facility in Cameron, Missouri, one of the Association’s most active prison branches, has been working diligently to organize the day-long workshop.

During the workshop, 50-55 prison branch members heard about the different criminal justice initiatives at the NAACP, in addition to hearing from other advocates on important issues such as prison gerrymandering and restorative justice. Further discussions revolved around what they can do from the inside to help advance NAACP’s criminal justice initiatives.

But perhaps the most important part of this workshop is best conveyed by the title the branch members chose for the day, “Prison Branches: The Untapped Resources.” And indeed, this group of NAACP’ers are some of the most dynamic, passionate, and knowledgeable criminal justice advocacy groups in the country. Active since 2004, they have put forth some of the most cutting edge, well-researched and well-documented set of criminal justice resolutions in recent years. And the one thing that became clear from the beginning: these members want to be active players in NAACP’s efforts to advance criminal justice, civil rights and human rights in this country.

In hopes of helping with the progress of NAACP’s criminal justice initiatives, the members presented several proposals to consider for implementation both at the national and state levels, including: different ways to abolish mandatory minimum sentencing, creating a mechanism for better coordination and cooperation between prison branches, reforming Missouri’s parole system, and bringing educational opportunities back to prisons. In addition, branch #4003 unveiled a resolution they are working on for 2011 which will call for the full restoration of voting rights of people while incarcerated.