The Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative began about five years ago in response to an economic crisis and the financial toll that a growing prison system placed on the state’s budget. The result has been a major retooling of Michigan’s corrections department – in policy, attitudes and culture.
The implications of this change were the topic of a panel discussion on Monday at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy. The four panelists – the director of Michigan’s Dept. of Corrections, two state legislators (including local Democrat Alma Wheeler Smith) and a veteran Lansing reporter – seemed in general agreement about the need for a program like MPRI. But they also agreed that changing the system has far-reaching implications, and they raised concerns about how the upcoming turnover in state government will impact the program’s future.
Discussion also touched on some difficulties faced because of the economy: Communities where prisons are located take a hit when those facilities are closed, and former prisoners have a tough time finding jobs because more people in general are competing for fewer positions. This latter topic has emerged in previous Chronicle coverage – the Washtenaw County MPRI held a summit in September 2009 focused on how to create jobs for former prisoners.