LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Corrections announced Wednesday the lowest recidivism rate in state history.
The rate, which measures how many people return to prison three years after their release, reached an all-time low of 26.7%. MDOC says this places Michigan in the top 10 lowest recidivism rates in the country.
The measurement came from prisoners released in 2016. According to public information officer Chris Gautz, 7,271 of the 9,922 people released didn't return to prison.
"So a pretty small number compared to where it used to be in state history when it was couple decades ago ... roughly one in every two prisoners were coming back," Gautz said. "Now you know we're roughly one in every four. So it's a huge, huge decrease."
Gautz said the first steps toward reform starts on a person's first day of prison.
"So there's a number of things that the Department of Corrections does that helps individuals find a true path to success upon release," Gautz said. "We find out what their risks are, what their needs are and then we tailor programs and put them in programs and other opportunities that will address those so that they have the best chance of success on the outside. "
Programs them help inmates get their GEDs, post secondary college programs, and vocational classes in their unique Vocational Village.
In the Vocational Village they learn trade skills like welding, plumbing and electrical. MDOC then helps prisoners find jobs before they're even released.
"We train returning citizens in a variety of fields and that's why you see our recidivism rate is so low because we're returning people back to their communities and they're able to stay out and be gainfully employed and really reintegrate into society which is the whole point," said Gautz.
He attributes their success to a change in the way the department thinks about reentry.
But their efforts do not stop when someone leaves the prison gates. Parole agents work with parolees to make sure they have jobs, housing and transportation to and from work.
Gautz said that a lot of prisoners don't have all of their vital documents, so helping inmates get their proper documents is a big part of the job.
"... It's incredibly important. If you think about if you tomorrow were going to lease a new apartment or you wanted to go buy a car you would need to have probably a state ID, or a birth certificate or a social security number card, drivers license, all those things," he said. "And those are things that by in large our prisoners don't have and so we spend a lot of time focusing on helping them get those records and so that way they have them so they don't spend months and months trying to navigate how to get those things."
He says the low recidivism rate effects more than just inmates; it has a positive impact on the whole state.
"There's a larger story behind that number and that is that there are safer communities, there are fewer victims, and there are fewer tax dollars having to go to our department to house prisoners," he said.