Grand Rapids, Mi., police Lt. Ralph Mason said he would help armed robber James Churchill, 34, nearing the end of a 10-year prison term, find a job if he could stay out of trouble after release, says USA Today. The collaboration in a state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate is remarkable and so far, successful. Eleven months after his release, Churchill has been employed for nine months by a plumbing company earning up to $21 per hour.
The case is an example of untraditional methods Michigan is using to help ex-offenders re-enter society and slash troubling rates of those who return to prison. Michigan officials are recruiting doctors, clergy, business leaders, and even police as mentors to help keep them out. Nationally, nearly 70% of all offenders are re-arrested within three years of release, and 50% return to prison over the same period. The numbers are “daunting,” says Jim Burch, acting director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, which oversees $165 million in grants to help former offenders make the transition. So far, the U.S. has distributed $28 million to try to cut recidivism by 50 percent during the next five years.