Deanne Macon had a drug problem and a job without much of a future, and the “no-good man” she was with had led her to the wrong side of the law, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press. When Macon, 35, was sentenced in 2004 for aiding and abetting an armed robbery, it looked as if she’d be just another of the 7,500 or so offenders who enter Hennepin County’s criminal justice system each year, do their time, get out, fall into their old haunts and habits, and wind up in trouble again. The Minneapolis mother of three got help from an innovative program called the Community Justice Project. The six-year-old initiative – a unique collaboration between the Minneapolis Police Department and the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches – trains volunteer mentors and matches them with offenders just out of jail.
The faith-based initiative’s co-director, Hillary Freeman, said the program is rooted in the belief that there are some things the Police Department does better and some things religious organizations can do better – and when the two are combined, they can help ex-offenders. The program seems to have helped those who have taken advantage of it. In 2006, the program matched 96 offenders with mentors. Of those, 53 stayed in touch with their mentors, and one year later, only four of those people have committed new crimes. Of the 43 offenders who didn’t stay in touch with their mentors, 23 are back in the criminal justice system. Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, who champions the program, said it is a matter of preventing crime versus dealing with the aftermath of crime. “We’re spending a lot of money to send these people back to prison when we could spend a fraction of that on a mentoring program to help make these people productive citizens. From what we’ve seen, it works,” he said. “Now the challenge is, if this is working, how do we expand this? How do we make it something that deals with more than 100 people in a year?”