by Pamela Young, Published January 01, 2009
YPSILANTI — It’s hard enough to serve a prison term, but when it’s time to be released, the challenges can be daunting.
A statewide program, the Michigan Prison Reentry Initiative (MPRI), provides vital support to men and women on parole for offenses ranging from pedophilia to armed robbery or substance abuse.
“What makes the Washtenaw County program so unique is the involvement of Eastern Michigan University social work students,” said Bonnie Miller, a lecturer in social work, who supervises the students. “This is the only program in the state where students are involved.”
“Washtenaw County has the highest rate of recidivism in Michigan. More people on parole end up going back to prison, which is why our students began working with returning citizens, as they are called,” said Miller. “We’ve been involved with the program for two years and we have a good success rate.”
Men and women on parole come out of Jackson prison and other prisons, and immediately meet with their parole officer, said Miller. Miller’s students then meet with the clients at the parole office. There are seven EMU students, both undergraduates and graduates, enrolled in the MPRI program this semester. The students are then assigned to help a person with specific needs. The number one vital need is housing, so they won’t become homeless, said Miller.
“We find housing for them and work with landlords. Finding them jobs is probably the hardest challenge in this economy, “ she said. “It’s also very hard to find mentors who will take on the responsibility of mentoring participants at least once a week for a year.”
It’s not always easy, Miller said. The majority of parolees don’t have birth certificates and the state doesn’t allow an ID from prison. Yet, says Miller, a person can’t get a proper ID unless they have a birth certificate. Some don’t even know where they were born. That’s where the EMU students can help.
If successful, each person graduates from the program in six months with housing; counseling if needed; and skills on how to dress properly, write a resume and interview professionally. Since EMU’s involvement two years ago, more than 100 participants have been helped, according to Miller
“When a person goes back to prison, it costs Michigan a fortune,” said Miller. It’s extremely exciting to see the results when these men and women graduate.”