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January 17, 2005 - The Detroit Free Press (MI)

Out Of Prison: Programs Aim To Keep Inmates From Returning

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Michigan's prisons have become revolving doors at an alarming rate. Roughly half of the nearly 12,000 inmates released every year are sent back.

Recidivism rates have risen since the early 1990s, when less than 30 percent of those leaving prison were returned. Repeat inmates have pushed up Michigan's prison population from 34,000 in 1990 to nearly 50,000 today.

Michigan must reduce recidivism rates if it hopes to limit, or even lower, its prison population and control the $1.7-billion corrections budget.

Releasing ill-prepared inmates without money, jobs, or even places to live is a prescription for failure. Each returning offender costs taxpayers $30,000 a year in prison.

That's why the Department of Corrections plans to ask the Legislature for about $6 million for re-entry programs, piloted in eight regions, which are designed to help parolees adjust to life after prison. They include halfway houses and drug treatment centers.

Equally important, the re-entry initiative will bring parole officers and community agencies into prisons to help inmates nearing parole develop successful release plans.

These are solid ideas with good track records around the country. The Legislature ought to support them. Re-entry programs are not soft-on-crime measures. They are practical efforts to reduce crime that have had the strong support of the Bush administration.

A little extra help at the critical time of an offender's release from prison will result in safer communities and lower prison costs.

Dennis Schrantz, the Department of Corrections' deputy director, aims to lower recidivism rates by 10 percent within two years, saving the state millions.

There's no better way for the state to manage its population safely than to help make sure that those who get out stay out.

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