Trending Topics

Recidivism program comes to Mich. county

By Rod Smith, Special to Hometown Gazette
Kalamazoo Gazette

PAW PAW, Mich — A program that has proven successful in preventing parolees from returning to prison is coming to Van Buren County.

The Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative is aimed at reducing the percentage of parolees who get rearrested from 48 percent to the single digits.

Peggy Schaffer, MPRI regional coordinator for Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties, said Michigan has the fifth-largest corrections system in the United States, though it isn’t the fifth-largest state.

“We have had the reputation of being tough on crime,” she said, “and now, unfortunately, we have to pay for that.”

The system costs $1.8 billion a year to operate, and officials plan to ask for $2 billion next year.

A total of 11,000 inmates are released each year.

“Forty-eight percent return to prison within two years of their release,” Schaffer said. “So almost half fail.”

The initiative, a state program, works with prisoner and outside services to reintegrate prisoners back into society. The effort begins before a prisoner is released and may include medical help, anger-management classes and employment assistance.

Employment is one of the biggest determinants in breaking the cycle of returning to prison.

In Chicago it was found that getting a parolee a job for as little as one day dropped the recidivism rate from 48 percent to 21 percent. With 30 days of employment, the rate went down to 18 percent. A job that lasts a year decreased the failure rate to 8 percent.

The MPRI works with other agencies to try to find jobs for those on parole. “Our overall employment rate is 93 percent,” Schaffer said.

In a one-year period in Berrien County there was an 82 percent success rate. “It’s very promising what we’re seeing so far,” she said.

It costs $30,000 to keep someone in prison for a year, but a working parolee is contributing both to society and paying taxes, so “this program has already paid for itself,” Schaffer said.

Copyright 2007 Kalamazoo Gazette
All Rights Reserved