Startling New Data Shows Rehabilitation Programs Work

March 12, 2020, 12:34 am

Many people now agree that our criminal justice system is highly ineffective in achieving at least one of its primary aims: rehabilitation. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report published in April, 2014, the five-year recidivism rate average for prisoners released in 2005 was 66%. That means two of every three prisoners released in 2005 in the United States returned to prison within five years on new charges. This startling statistic is the culmination of decades of state and federal policies that favored longer, harsher sentences and that rejected evidence-based rehabilitative programming.

Now, in response to the United States’ problem of mass incarceration, policies of the last several decades are being replaced, albeit slowly, with evidence-based solutions. There’s a lot of work still to be done, but some new, very good and very surprising statistics were just recently released. 

Over the last five or six years, the Michigan Department of Corrections has begun to take a different approach to rehabilitation. Under Director Heidi Washington’s leadership, the MDOC has started several Vocational Village training programs that seek to prepare home-going prisoners with skills to find and maintain jobs. Additionally, other “Offender Success Model” programs designed to better prepare paroling prisoners for re-entry to their communities have been simultaneously implemented. And the results are good. Even a 25% improvement would have been noteworthy, but data recently released demonstrates that Michigan now has one of the country’s lowest recidivism rates: 26.7%. That’s a 60% improvement!

The MDOC, under Director Washington, is doing its part (mostly) to improve the over incarceration problem. Now it’s time for the Michigan legislature to do its part. The legislature is currently considering a jail reform package that would directly address the overcrowding in jails through bail reform, reduced sentences for misdemeanors, and treating mentally ill people instead of jailing them, among other reforms. This reform would be a good step in the right direction, but many other reforms are needed.  

Michigan, for example, is one of only three states that does not offer prisoners an opportunity to earn time off their sentences for good behavior or by other means (like education credits). Michigan also sentences many prisoners to life without the possibility of parole, including some juvenile offenders. Additionally, Michigan’s felony murder statute means that an offender who did not kill someone can be sentenced to life in prison because they were part of another felony where someone died or was killed (by an accomplice, for example). Michigan also sentences its prisoners to an average 27 months longer than many other states. Mandatory minimum sentences are partly responsible for this high average, taking discretion away from sentencing judges. 

These policies and laws are largely responsible for Michigan’s high prison population, which continues to cost Michigan a third of its annual budget at a staggering $2.2 billion. It’s time for Michigan’s legislature to start fixing these problems. If they won’t do it, vote to replace them, and in the meantime, sign the petition for the Michigan Prisoner Rehabilitation Credit Act–

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The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry. Women Against Registry reserves the right to edit or delete any content submitted.