Between 2 and 3 million people in Michigan have a criminal conviction. More than 8,000 return from prison each year across the state. To fully realize Michigan’s economic promise, we must support the economic mobility of these returning citizens.
Involvement in the criminal justice system can have a significant impact on an individual’s access to employment, housing, and other opportunities. This harms individuals and families and further limits the economic development of communities that a disproportionate proportion of individuals with criminal records call home. There is a direct link between lack of investment in community resources, socioeconomic disparities and incarceration rates. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by incarceration in Michigan. Blacks make up about 14% of the population, but 53% of the state‘s prison population.
These cycles of poverty, racism and imprisonment have caught the attention of the philanthropic community. In 2020, at the initiative of Melanca Clark, President and CEO of the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and several other funders established the Michigan Justice Fund to advance fair justice policy and support the transformational changes underway in communities across the state. The collaboration, which is managed by the Community Foundation, has grown to include 14 national and local foundations. The Michigan Justice Fund has invested more than $5 million in organizations across the state that focus on issues in the criminal justice system.
One of the main goals of the Michigan Justice Fund is to improve economic outcomes for those affected by mass incarceration. Many of our organizational partners work to remove barriers to employment for returning citizens.
For example, a Michigan Justice Fund grantee, the New Beginnings program, which is based at the Women’s Resource Center in West Michigan, helps women in the Kent County Jail find jobs after incarceration. Services include mentorship, individual employment plans and connection to community resources. Eighty-five percent of the center’s clients find employment and 86% keep their jobs six months later.
The Flint-based MADE Institute, another Michigan Justice Fund grantee, provides returning citizens with convenience items such as hygiene products and clothing, as well as pens and briefcases to take to interviews. MADE Institute also helps clients find affordable housing and train to work as entrepreneurs or in the green-collar economy.
The Michigan Justice Fund is proud to support these programs and other initiatives designed to expand access to economic opportunity. Returning citizens are valuable contributors to our workforce and provide energy and ideas that drive our statewide economy.
Michigan can and must do better. State and local governments currently offer an inconsistent patchwork of resources and access to opportunities that are often determined by jurisdiction. This area is ripe for innovation and exciting programming. Small business community-led apprenticeship programs and public-private partnership pilot projects designed to fill the gaps in our current workforce would put Michigan at the forefront of economic development at scale. national.
Our collective recognition of the complexity of rebuilding life after incarceration is also critical to the success of returning citizens.
Comprehensive services that take into account transportation, housing and child care needs would revitalize our current approaches to reintegration. Rely less on incarceration, which the state currently funds to the tune of $2 billion a year, and more on community reintegration supports designed to catalyze pathways to higher education and employment opportunities for this unique population, can have a measurable impact on our state. economy.
We must also ensure that eligible individuals have the support they need to take advantage of Michigan’s Clean Slate legislation passed in 2020. Clean Slate is helping residents more easily set aside public criminal records and expand their access to job opportunities. Michigan Justice Fund partner Safe & Just Michigan has been instrumental in advancing these efforts.
Michigan needs to focus on building strong, thriving communities and an inclusive economy. Investing in the success of returning citizens reduces crime, curbs recidivism, and helps build a better future for those affected, their families and communities, and our state as a whole.
Visit cfsem.org/justice to learn more about the Michigan Justice Fund.