By BAILEY LASKE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Recidivism rates in Michigan have fallen to an all-time low, and the Department of Corrections is crediting more extensive education and job training programs both in prison and after release.
All demographics of people have become more successful after release and less likely to commit further crimes because of the department’s new offender success model, Chris Gautz, the public information officer at the Department of Corrections, said.
Recidivism refers to the percentage of offenders who return to prison within three years.
The state’s rate has dropped from 29.8 percent of prisoners who were paroled in 2013 and didn’t return for three years to 28.1 percent of those who had returned to prison after being released in 2014. Michigan’s previous lowest rate was 29 percent recorded for offenders released in 2010, according to a state press release. The highest rate in recent years was about 46 percent in 1998.
Around 2012, the department stepped up its efforts to rehabilitate prisoners, Gautz said. For example, inmates’ education options became more diverse and now include a wider variety of classes, as well as more options in the skilled trades.
“They have a better chance of success because they have some college credits. They have a bachelor’s or an associate degree or a certification in a skilled trade,” he said.
In addition to education, services offered to inmates once they are on parole expanded, Gautz said. The department can provide certain inmates a place to live for up to three months until they get back on their feet and can assist with job search and placement.
“For a long time, parole and probation could settle into a routine of the person coming to the office and simply being asked if they are living where they are supposed to be and if they have a job. If the answer was yes, it was just onto the next person. It’s not like that anymore,” Gautz said.
Agents now travel to parolees’ homes to see what’s going on. They also go to their workplaces and talk to them as well as their employers, he said.
Not only does that mean parolees don’t have to take time off work to go to a parole office, but the agents get a much better sense of their condition, how they’re adjusting and what their possible needs are, Gautz said.
Jessica Taylor, the executive director of Chance for Life, said those steps are important, but the first step is helping to change the mindset of the prisoners. The Detroit-based nonprofit organization helps prisoners, both incarcerated and on parole, understand that changing their outlook is key for them to have a better future.
Its programs include teaching conflict resolution, leadership training and critical thinking.
“After changing their mindset, every other step toward success begins to work because the people now understand why they were acting a certain way before and how they need to be thinking to make positive change,” Taylor said.
Several higher education institutions are also involved in the education of the incarcerated. Jackson College has been involved in assisting inmates in higher education since the early 1970s. Its Prison Education Initiative serves about 600 students in three state facilities and one federal facility.
According to Bobby Beauchamp, the director of the organization, well over 50 percent of the inmates it works with get on the dean’s list.
Corrections is very supportive of the initiative, and it has done a great job with focusing on lowering reentry into prisons through education, Beauchamp said.
Western Michigan University has also been developing a prison education program with faculty and graduate students from the Philosophy Department, who teach classes for inmates.
By BAILEY LASKE