By STEPHANIE RAUHE
Capital News Service
LANSING – For parolees returning home, it can be difficult to adjust to life outside prison without a support system.
The Department of Corrections is establishing a Walk a Mile Mentoring Program to “provide offenders with the opportunity to change, encourage them during difficult times, model positive behavior and help develop prosocial and problem solving skills.”
Tony Mills, the mentor coordinator, said the initiative was inspired by the Idaho Department of Corrections’s Free2Succeed mentoring program established in 2016.
A Michigan deputy corrections director heard about its success at a conference.
Over the next few years, the department researched the logistics of creating such a program and brought Mills aboard in January 2022 to help build it “from the ground up.”
The program launched in July 2023 in Monroe and Muskegon counties, with plans over the next few weeks to open in Kent and Oakland counties.
“We’ve partnered with community organizations around the state that have done mentoring on our behalf,” Mills said. “We wanted to develop our own program to make it available to our clients statewide.”
Mills said the Corrections Department struggled in the past with parolees not connecting with mentors they were paired with.
The department purchased specialized software, MentorcliQ, which allows both mentors and mentees to complete a profile and personality assessment. The software uses an algorithm to take that information and provides a list of matches for them.
“I’ll have a conversation with the mentor in general terms about the mentee, and if it feels like a good fit, then I have a conversation with the mentee about the mentor,” said Mills. “If both sides think it’s a good fit, then I’ll talk with the parole agent to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
The mentors’ goals include reducing recidivism and technical parole violations, as well as encouraging mentees to complete their parole program.
Mentors are volunteers and parolees who participate do so voluntarily. They must be at least 25, provide references and be interviewed by Mills or another member of the department’s offender success unit.
In addition, the department uses parolees as peer mentors.
“In general, we’re just looking for people with a big heart, a good head on their shoulders and someone who has an interest in helping people,” Mills said.
Mills has been in state government for over 20 years, but said he has never been so happy.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would find so much fulfillment and satisfaction being a part of this program,” Mills said. “This is the first time in my career that I know I’m part of something that will truly change lives and families for the better.”