Prisoner re-entry program will be run by department

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In this photo from last year, Yvonne Jackson (left) and Denise Allsberry review MPRI materials.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Those who read the “final edition” of the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative eNews might have thought that the MPRI was being discontinued due to lack of success.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The real story is that the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is discontinuing its contractual agreement with the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD) and Public Policy Associates (PPA) to manage the prisoner re-entry program so that it may bring its operation in-house.

“We’re bringing resources back to the department and we’ll support re-entry programs ourselves,” said John Cordell, Public Information Specialist at MDOC. “Current funding for re-entry is $52 million and the executive budget includes $51-52 million again next year.

“It is near fully-operational statewide and we’re still working on expanding it to cover everywhere in Michigan. The 18 site coordinators will continue, and we’ll continue working with community partners such as Goodwill Industries.”

The concept behind MPRI, which started out as a pilot in several counties around the state, is simple: if services are given to prison inmates before they leave prison that prepare them for productive lives on the outside, there will be less recidivism and a reduction in crime. The greatest benefits of such a program will be to the general public in terms of increased safety, but those who have been imprisoned will also get a chance to turn their lives around.
The Michigan program has been highly successful, by any measure. PPA, producers of the electronic newsletter, state, “The results to date are what we all had been hoping for and working toward.  There are 7,500 fewer prisoners than just a few years ago, and  Michigan's crime rate is down.”  While acknowledging that many other factors may be involved, the newsletter authors say that there is little doubt that MPRI helped.

In fact, there has been an observable decline in re-offending on the part of MPRI-supported parolees. A report on the MPRI, which can be viewed at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/MPRI_2010_Progress_Report_343664_7.pdf, says that the average rate of return to prison before the start of the program in 2003 was about 50%. Among the 22,000 MPRI parolees, there are just one in three who return to prison, as of October 2010.

Both the prison population (which increased steadily to a peak of 51,554 in March 2007 and had declined to 44,092 in October 2010) and the number of serious crimes (according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, which sank from approximately 380,000 in 2006 to about 330,000 in 2009) have taken a nose dive in recent years. The FBI Uniform Crime Reports show the total number of serious crimes reported (committed by all offenders) dropped from about 380,000 in 2006 to about 330,000 in 2009. Violent crimes followed the same pattern.

MPRI was recognized more than once as a national model. Michael Thompson, Director Council of State Governments  Justice Center is quoted in the report as saying, “Michigan has developed one of the most comprehensive statewide re-entry initiatives in the United States. The Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative draws on extensive research demonstrating how public safety can be enhanced when people returning from prison are appropriately supervised and engaged in risk-reduction interventions. Other states are learning from the Michigan experience.”

The Department of Corrections, including Director Richard McKeon, were very happy with the work of the two consulting partners. “PPA and MCCD helped us get it off the ground,” said Cordell, “and supplied some skills we might not excel at, such as getting the word out.”

The final newsletter states, “The department plans to commit internal resources to address the ongoing training and technical assistance needs of local MPRI administrative agencies and their partners,” which PPA and MCCD applaud.

One critical factor in the program’s success is that the two groups worked to build the capacity of local providers by developing local programs based on local assets. Community partnerships and partner roles are different around the state.

Yvonne Jackson, working under the supervision of Denise Allsberry, is the site coordinator for Kent County. She says, “I have not heard anything that will impact what we’re doing with re-entry, but we have a new governor, and we still have to give him time to settle in. We’ve heard that re-entry is still being supported, but as with any other program, the effectiveness to date is being reviewed. But the program started with bipartisan support and that’s still the case.”

According to the report cited above, MPRI has saved the state millions. There is a favorable cost comparison between incarcerating someone versus supervising him or her on parole (approximately $34,000 annually versus $2100). “It’s simple math,” Jackson said.

“We intend to go full steam ahead. We’re 100%-plus committed,” Jackson said.