State of Recidivism
The Revolving Door of America's Prisons
Michigan Shrinks Prison Population by 12 Percent
Recidivism State Success Stories
At the start of the millennium, Michigan did not look like a state on the cusp of inspiring correctional reform. Its myriad problems included high crime rates, a sharply rising inmate population, disappointing recidivism numbers and an economy deeply wounded by the ailing auto industry. By 2002, the state was sinking $1.6 billion a year into corrections, almost one-fifth of its general fund.
Less than a decade later, Michigan is riding a wave of policy changes that have allowed it to shrink its inmate population by 12 percent, close more than 20 correctional facilities and keep a growing number of parolees from returning to custody.
The cornerstone of the effort is the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI). Launched in 2003 and expanded statewide in 2008, the initiative’s mission is to equip every released offender with tools to succeed in the community. MPRI begins at intake, when a prisoner’s risk, needs and strengths are measured to develop individualized programming. Prior to parole, offenders are transferred to a reentry facility, and a transition plan, which addresses employment, housing, transportation, mentoring, counseling and any necessary treatment for mental illness or addictions, is finalized in close collaboration with community service providers. After release, officers use firm but flexible graduated sanctions – including short stays in a reentry center if needed – to manage rule breaking before it escalates to more serious transgressions.
The Pew/Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) recidivism survey found a mixed picture in Michigan. Recidivism declined by 18 percent between 1999 and 2004 because of a dramatic drop in the reincarceration of technical violators, but returns to prison for new crimes jumped by almost 21 percent during the period. Those numbers, however, do not capture progress that has occurred under MPRI since Pew’s observation period ended in 2007.
Overall, post-2007 preliminary figures from the Michigan Department of Corrections show that parolees released through the MPRI are returning to prison 33 percent less frequently than similar offenders who do not participate in the program. A closer look at all offenders released from Michigan prisons reveals that parole revocations for both new crimes and technical violations are at their lowest level since record keeping began 23 years ago. In 2009, there were 195 revocations for every 1,000 parolees—101 were for technical violations and 94 were for new crimes. A decade earlier, that figure was 344 revocations per 1,000 parolees—246 for technical violations and 98 for new criminal convictions.
The trend is particularly significant because Michigan’s parole population has grown dramatically in recent years. As MPRI has produced positive results, members of the state’s Parole & Commutation Board have become increasingly confident about parolee success, leading to higher parole approval rates. As a result, the state paroled roughly 3,000 more prisoners in 2009 than it did in 2006.
"Although the roots of MPRI were clearly in a budget crisis, it was never only about saving money—it was a belief that doing corrections 'right' would result in a smaller prison system and large savings," recalled former Michigan Director of Corrections Patricia L. Caruso. "We had to change our entire culture to focus on success. It was challenging, but fortunately, it worked."
States can break this cycle of recidivism and save money by implementing evidence-based programs and policies.
"Policies aimed at reducing recidivism offer perhaps the ripest opportunities for achieving the twin goals of less crime and lower costs."