|Conference Wrap-Up: NABCJ in Orlando|
|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter|
The National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice (NABCJ) held its 35th Annual Conference and Training Institute July 20 to 24, in Orlando, Florida. The networking and education event drew 500 criminal justice professionals from all over the United States and three Caribbean islands. Although attendance was significantly down compared to past events, enthusiasm was not dampened.
“We’re very proud of the conference we put together this year,” says NABCJ president Fay Lassiter. “It brings together individuals who are committed to making a difference in the criminal justice system in America and also to making a difference in the overrepresentation of African-Americans who are under some type of criminal justice supervision.”
Created in 1974, NABCJ is a non-profit association that strives to achieve equal justice for blacks and other minorities. Its members consist of criminal justice professionals in law enforcement, institutional and community corrections, courts, social services, academia, and religious and other community-based interests.
“Events like this are the best way to keep people on the cutting edge,” Lassiter adds. “As a field, we become isolated if we don’t bring people together.”
The four-day event was kicked off by legendary gospel singer Dottie Peoples who performed for the crowd. Recording artist Wintley Phipps sang and spoke as well, focusing on the importance of family, unity and togetherness. Phipps founded the U.S. Dream Academy, a national non-profit that mentors children of inmates as well as those failing in school.
Workshops explored a variety of juvenile criminal justice issues, including the link between low academic achievement and school suspensions, and the importance of aligning youth and law enforcement. Those specific to women’s issues addressed topics such as preparing incarcerated women for transitioning to the working world, and treatment services for female batterers. Other workshops touched on substance abuse, reentry, and wellness and health.
For the first time, the conference drew 40 representatives from the Caribbean, including three prison directors. It was the largest delegation of its kinds in conference history, illustrating the association’s growing international appeal.
“In spite of the state of the economy, 500 is a really good number for us, considering most people pay their own way to be there,” says Lassiter. In the past, the conference has drawn upwards of 1,500 attendees.
“We need to do all we can to get those numbers back up, because these events are really the place where people learn the most,” she adds.
Attendees also had the opportunity to tour local criminal justice facilities, including the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex.
“We do this so we can give professionals a gaze at how others are operating,” says Lassiter. “You learn a lot just from going on that tour.”
This year, NABCJ offered a post-conference cruise to Nassau, the Bahamas. For Lassiter, this option was about more than just getting away.
“All members of the criminal justice profession, especially in corrections, are under a great deal of stress,” she says. “We recognize that and always try to do things to help them to de-stress, like fun activities and stress-related education.”
“To me, our criminal justice workers are heroes,” Lassiter adds. “They go to work every day knowing they’re putting their own lives at risk. Going to work every day knowing they may be in some type of altercation, to me, it’s like going to war, especially for our corrections officers.”
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