IONIA COUNTY, Mich. – For most, their view into the world of prisons and jails exists only through small windows of media exposure and television crime shows. But there is so much more going on behind the walls in Michigan correctional facilities than just hard time.
New York-based Vera Institute of Criminal Justice has partnered with local organizations across eleven different states, Michigan included, for their 18-month long Reimagining Prison program.
The initiative, which began in June, will explore vocational training and higher education programs for inmates, as well as refined visitation policies.
“Prisoners are human beings, and they have the same size hopes and dreams of people on the outside,” said Craig DeRoche, Senior Vice President of Prison Fellowship, a Vera Institute partner and the largest prison ministry in the country. “Prison is a very important time for the person…that’s incarcerated.”
DeRoche understands the benefits of positive correctional programs better than most. The former Michigan Speaker of the House, DeRoche was arrested twice in 2010 and spent time in the state’s correctional system.
"For 30 or 40 years, I think we lost track of the fact that we want somebody that goes to prison to come out in better shape – to move away from a life of crime,” he said, “and where that starts is by normalizing their relationships with their family, with their community, through their relationships in visitation."
Visitation is the best way, DeRoche says, to influence prisoners positively. As part of the Reimagine initiative, DeRoche made a Monday stop at Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia County. They have what he calls a model system for visitation, encouraging not only members of the inmate’s family to attend frequently, but also members of the community.
“Whether they’re family or friends or positive influences – teachers, volunteers, pastors – can help a person with the knowledge they need to live successfully and crime free when they get out of prison,” said DeRoche.
“One of the things that we believe is very important for these guys that are incarcerated here is to have that family support…that outside support,” said Handlon Deputy Warden Melinda Braman. “They feel a sense of hope now at this facility because there’s so many positive things that are going on here.”
For more information on the Vera Institute, click here.
To see more on the Prison Fellowship, click here.