Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reentry Data Manipulation

This is bad news for a reentry program in Michigan, as reported by the Detroit News.

An excerpt.

“Lansing — Michigan's Prisoner Re-entry Initiative has won national acclaim for helping ex-convicts stay out of trouble, but critics say the state is undercounting lapsed parolees to make the program appear more successful than it is.

“The criticism comes amid an audit of the 6-year-old Department of Corrections program that found other shortcomings, including overcharging vendors for services and allowing conflicts of interest between contractors and subcontractors.

“Jim Chihak, a former parole and probation officer who was part of a panel that evaluated the program this spring, said the program's intent — to keep prisoners from returning to prison — is admirable, but "the way it's being handled is a disaster."

"If you worked in a bank that was wasting money and not monitoring where it was going, why would you keep putting money into it?" said Chihak, a Marquette County commissioner.

“A recent Pew Center national survey of prisons found Michigan boasts one of the nation's sharpest drops in convicts returning to prison.

“The state Department of Corrections' re-entry program was credited with the decline in recidivism while the state was closing prisons and paroling 3,000 more inmates in 2009 than in 2006. Recidivism is often factored in as a way to gauge corrections costs.

“But current and former parole officers and others say offenders aren't just being returned to prison. Instead, they are being placed in alternative programs, county jails or on tethers — or worse, being freed and returning to crime — without being counted as "official" re-offenders, critics say.

“More than 22,500 ex-cons were paroled by 2010 with help from the program, including aid for housing, transportation, employment, health needs and education, according to the Department of Corrections.

“It also reports there have been 33 percent fewer returns to prison for parole violations or new crimes between 2006 to 2009 . The department boasts that returns to prison within three years dropped to a low of 36.4 percent, compared with earlier highs of around 45.7 percent.

“But those who challenged the numbers note that in most states, ex-convicts who commit new crimes while on parole go to prison or jail.

“Michigan has created a "straddle cell" category in which repeat offenders might get GPS tethers and treatment or counseling to help them get their lives on track rather than be put back behind bars. About 43 percent of offenders in Michigan fall into that classification.”