In 1998 the recidivism rate in Michigan was 45.7%, meaning that of those released from prison, this percentage of offenders were reincarcerated within three years. It is extremely common for those who are released to return to a life of crime or continue criminal behavior, however it seems things are turning around for the state according to recent reports which reveal the rate has dropped to 29.8%.
Why the substantial drop? In years past, most individuals imprisoned for years or even decades after being convicted of a serious crime had little hope of becoming productive members of society upon release due to a lack of skills and education. For the most part, prisoners were simply left behind bars until their time was served, released to a world of uncertainty regarding their futures. Considering how quickly things change in terms of technology, many offenders who are released are completely unfamiliar with the way the world operates today. If you were put in prison for 10 or 20 years, how would you react once released? What would you do, and how would you support yourself financially? Until someone has been there, it is impossible to imagine the fear and uncertainty offenders experience when “set free.”
Heidi Washington, Department of Corrections Director in Michigan said in reports the drop in the recidivism rate is a clear indicator that the MDOC is meeting its goal in terms of helping ensure prisoners can become law-abiding citizens and productive members of society once released by preparing them through education and job training. A number of initiatives have been launched in recent years, including last year’s opening of the Vocational Village at Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, a site that provides those incarcerated an opportunity to develop skills in carpentry, electrical trades, welding, CNC machining, plumbing, and automotive technology.
By being given the training and education essential to secure stable employment upon release, prisoners are less likely to fall back into a life of crime and return to prison.
In February, the Michigan Senate passed a 21-bill package regarding criminal justice reform focused primarily on reducing recidivism, legislation sponsored primarily by Senator John Proos. While the goal of the bills is to lower state costs related to recidivism, in the end the benefits to prisoners are substantial. Perhaps with concentrated effort we will begin to see more offenders become successful members of society, and fewer returning to prison. Helping rehabilitate and give offenders a second chance at life, and reducing crime rates in Michigan sounds like a good combination.