Community Foundation Joins State Prisoner Re-entry Effort

A young man was recently released from prison after serving time for drinking and driving. Back in the free world he found himself labeled a felon, unemployed and unable to drive. Wanting desperately to get his feet back on the ground, he went to Hope Network where he learned the skills necessary to get a job. The agency provided access to phones, computers, lists of potential contacts and even gave him bus tickets so he could get to and from potential employers. His diligent efforts paid off and before long he was able to land a full-time job, making the most of his second chance.

Unfortunately, this is not how the story goes for many ex-offenders re-entering our community. In 2004, 8,070 prisoners were paroled in Michigan. Of these 3,942, or 48.9 percent, failed to succeed in the community, returning to prison within two years. This high rate of recidivism, which costs Michigan approximately $112 million a year, is often due to a lack of housing and employment opportunities, health care services or family support for ex-offenders. A new initiative in Michigan seeks to change this.

Funded in part by a $2 million grant from the JEHT (Justice, Equity, Human dignity and Tolerance) Foundation, a New York-based private foundation, the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (MPRI) involves state and community partners in a three-phase approach to ensure that every inmate released from prison has the tools needed to succeed in the community, much like the support given to the young man in the example above.

In an effort to encourage community foundations in Michigan to become involved with this issue, the JEHT Foundation also approved a $1 million grant to match funds from community foundations to programs dedicated to re-entry efforts, with the primary emphasis on those services that are identified in the MPRI. Grand Rapids Community Foundation is the first community foundation in Michigan to apply and receive $200,000 from this matching grant.

“This is a population that has traditionally been pushed to the way-side—out of sight, out of mind. However, we are now seeing the major economic consequences associated with a high recidivism rate,” said Laurie Craft, Program Director at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “Currently, the amount the state spends per prisoner outweighs the amount spent per K-12 student four to one. We simply cannot afford this approach any longer.”

Community Foundations Awards First Grant from Match Fund

Recently, the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation approved the first community grant from the JEHT Foundation Match Fund. A one year grant for $62,500 was awarded to Legal Aid of Western Michigan to remove legal barriers to employment and housing for inmates re-entering the community. This funding will allow the agency to continue and expand the services, outreach and advocacy they provide as part of an effort known as the Re-entry Law Project.

“We are pleased to receive the matching grant from the JEHT Foundation,” added Craft. “The Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative is inline with many of our strategic priorities and this is a great way for us to leverage our dollars in the community.”

Common questions about the MPRI

What does the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (MPRI) entail?

The MPRI seeks to link comprehensive pre-release planning and preparation with services available in local communities, to promote public safety by reducing crime and the high recidivism rates. Research shows that parolees who have 40 to 70 percent of their time structured in pro-social activities will be less likely to commit crime.

The MPRI follows a three-phase approach that begins the day the inmate enters the corrections facility and includes:

  • Getting ready—Institutional Phase: Time is spent creating a case management plan that identifies and addresses the inmate’s risks, needs and strengths.
  • Going home- Transition to Community Re-entry Phase: Approximately six months before release a specific re-entry plan is created to address housing, employment, re-establishing family connections and services needed for addiction and mental illness.
  • Staying home—Community and Discharge Phase: Takes place from the time the inmate is released to parole ends. The former inmate, human services providers, and a network of community supports and mentors work together to assure success.

How will the MPRI impact our communities?

If successful, this initiative could save significant state dollars. Estimates suggest that after full implementation in 2008, a six percent increase in parolee success could avoid costs exceeding $42.7 million at the end of the first year. Other financial considerations include:

  • The budget for the Michigan Department of Corrections is $1.8 billion and the current recidivism rate of 48.9 percent costs $112 million per year.
  • As the number of prisoners increase the need for additional correctional facilities likewise goes up. Instead of building prisons, these funds could be used toward education, health care and new technology.
  • The state currently spends $30,120 annually to incarcerate one prisoner, while spending approximately $6,800 annually to educate one (k-12) student.
  • In addition its financial benefits, the MPRI could also decrease homelessness, public health costs, crime rates and the social impact to children and families.

When is the MPRI being implemented?

The MPRI was piloted in eight communities in 2005, including Kent County. An additional seven communities implemented the MPRI in 2006, with statewide implementation slated for 2008.

What’s the connection between MPRI and the Community Foundation?

Many aspects of the MPRI align with the leadership priorities of Grand Rapids Community Foundation:

  • Housing: The Community Foundation supports the creation of vibrant neighborhoods where affordable, quality housing options are available, neighborhoods are diverse, residents are involved in their community and all residents have an equal opportunity for home ownership.
  • Workforce Development: The Community Foundation supports a trained and ready workforce, in which transitional employment opportunities are available and workers have the training necessary to contribute to our economy.
  • Public safety: The Community Foundation seeks to a reduce violence and foster safe living environments.

For more information about the MPRI, the JEHT Foundation Match Fund and the impact this could have in Grand Rapids, please contact Amanda St. Pierre, PR & Marketing Associate at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation at 616.454.1751 x132.