Local Grants Support Statewide Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative

In the year since receiving the $200,000 matching grant fund from the New York-based JEHT Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation has awarded $275,000 in grants to local programs that support the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Program.

Legal Aid of Western Michigan is working to expand the services, outreach and advocacy it provides for former prisoners returning to our community as part of the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI) through the Reentry Law Project. With grant funding in 2006 and 2007 totaling $125,000, the Reentry Law Project is providing direct legal services to ex-offenders, creating materials to be distributed to all prisoners entering state correctional facilities, providing trainings for corrections-related service providers statewide, and producing the Reentry Wiki, a website to assist ex-offenders and service providers seeking legal services. This year, the Reentry Law Project plans to increase the number of ex-offenders receiving services and gaining employment.

“The work we’ve done so far with the grant support has had a significant impact. To date, we’ve provided reentry-related legal services to over 140 people who couldn’t have otherwise afforded it,” said Miriam Aukerman, Legal Aid attorney. “We’ve helped clients determine if they are eligible to work in particular jobs, and we’ve advocated for them if they were evicted or denied access to housing due to their record.

“The grants we received have also allowed us to provide resources to the community. We host monthly seminars on reentry issues, and our web site informs ex-offenders of their rights and the benefits available to them. We’re also working on a printed publication for prisoners returning to Kent County,” Miriam said.

Reentry Employment Resource Center (RERC) is using a $120,000 grant to provide workforce development services to Kent County ex-offenders.

The RERC has convened a local employer advisory group which has defined required certification standards for ex-offenders to be placed within the employer network. The agency has also engaged local agencies to provide support services and training for ex-offenders returning to the community.

“In July, we welcomed our first seven graduates from our self-governed life training program. Attendees identified the activities associated with poverty and the barriers to successful reintegration. Graduates come away with enhanced decision making and communication skills and have the ability to respond to employer expectations,” said Tom Mulligan, RERC executive director.

“We’d like to offer training programs in correctional facilities before prisoners are released. This would help close the gap between release and employment,” Tom said.

Community Media Center (CMC) with the Reentry Employment Resource Center (RERC) is using a $30,000 grant to create an interactive and virtual space for ex-offenders. The web site will offer links to services including Legal Aid Wiki and United Way 211. Limiting transportation and schedule conflicts for ex-offenders receiving help, this virtual space will also act as a tool for assessment, job training and tracking for caseworkers and the ex-offenders they are working with to successfully reenter the community.