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NEW ORLEANS When inmates are released from prison they often they have trouble adjusting to life on the outside, but Wednesday, a new program is launching to help create a smooth transition for those rejoining society, and it's called The First 72+.

Congressman Cedric Richmond, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Secretary of Corrections James LeBlanc, and prison reform advocates will hold a ribbon cutting for the opening of the first transitional house in New Orleans for those returning home from prison, at 2917 Perdido Street.

'The First 72+ is a model program, critical to the long-term success of these individuals,' said Richmond. 'The First 72+ will provide a welcoming stable environment that will help point those re-entering society in the right direction so that they can become productive members or our community,' Mayor Landrieu explained.

The six-member board of The First 72+, a non-profit corporation, are all ex-offenders who have together served more than 100 years in prison. 'We have experienced re-entry ourselves and want to help others through that process. Everyone deserves the opportunity to rebuild his or her life,' said Calvin Duncan, chair of The First 72+.

'Typically, when the long-term incarcerated return from prison, their family and friends are no longer present,' said co-chair Norris Henderson. 'The outside can be a frightening place where people struggle to fit in.'

The program, offered free of charge for the first 90 days, connects the client to the services he will need including an initial visit with a probation or parole officer if required, a search for affordable health care, an application for food stamps, the acquisition of a personal identification card if needed, information on potential educational programs that might be available or job placement through a partnering staffing agency.

'Our goal is to relieve the person's stress so he can have the opportunity to breathe,' said Pastor Tyrone Smith, Next Generation of Original Morning Star Full Gospel Baptist Church. The First 72+ is a project of OMSFGBC.

The First 72+ transition house can currently accommodate five males in three bedrooms. As other houses come about, the program will also be made available for women. If a person remains in the program beyond 90 days, he will be asked to 'pay it forward.' 'Our long term plan is for each house to be self-sufficient,' said Smith.

For more information about the program or to make a donation contact Norris Henderson at (504) 453-4819.

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