Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reentry Efforts

This effort in Michigan using mentoring is one that has been tried for many years, with varying degrees of success.

A chief problem is the lack of good mentors—with the kind of training and temperament to be helpful but not victimized—as the program increases in volume and more released prisoners need mentors.

That being said, we wish this program as reported by USA Today, the best of luck.

An excerpt.

“GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — James Churchill was nearing the end of a 10-year prison term for armed robbery last year when he struck an unusual bargain with an unlikely partner.

“If Churchill, a career criminal at age 34, could stay out of trouble during his first months of freedom, police Lt. Ralph Mason pledged to help find him a job.

“The collaboration between cop and criminal in a state with the nation's highest unemployment rate is remarkable and so far, successful. Eleven months after his release, Churchill has been employed for nine months — without incident — by a industrial plumbing company, earning up to $21 per hour.

“Churchill says he was "shocked" by Mason's help, but the officer's intervention is a sample of the untraditional methods Michigan officials are using to help ex-offenders re-enter society and slash troubling rates of those who return to prison.
As communities across the nation struggle to assimilate about 700,000 ex-offenders who leave prison each year, according to the Justice Department, local Michigan officials are recruiting doctors, clergy, business leaders and even police as mentors to help keep them out.

“At a time when crime is at historic lows in many parts of the country, former offenders' successful re-entry into society is among the major challenges facing the criminal justice system. Nationally, nearly 70% of all offenders are re-arrested within three years of release, and 50% return to prison over the same period, Justice Department records show.

“The numbers are "daunting," says Jim Burch, acting director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, which will oversee $165 million in grants to communities nationwide to help former offenders make the transition. So far, the U.S. government has distributed $28 million to try to cut recidivism by 50% during the next five years.

“The legislation and a sluggish economy — which has forced states such as Kansas, Michigan and Tennessee to shutter prisons and increase the ranks of offenders on parole or probation — have injected a new urgency into efforts to end the costly careers of habitual offenders.

"It will take some time before we see change across the board," Burch says.

“Yet, four years into the Michigan experiment, known as the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (MPRI), the program is producing some promising results. The project, based on intensive intervention in all aspects of life, begins before release for offenders who state officials believe pose the highest risk of committing new crimes and returning to prison.

“Statewide, the rates of ex-offenders sent back to prison have dropped from 55% to 38% since the program started, says John Cordell of the state Department of Corrections.”