Officials with government agencies and private organizations told stakeholders at a Thursday summit that by working together they can better help more formerly incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and lead more productive lives.

More funding, whether from government or private sources, would also help according to those sitting on a panel during the summit Safe and Just Michigan hosted Thursday at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing. The focus of the panels, speakers and activities was centered on educating stakeholders on how to help those released from incarceration to reintegrate into their communities by finding employment and housing.

One panel focused on how to help overcome state and local level barriers to housing and employment for former inmates.

“We have to partner a bit more with nontraditional partners,” Tracy Peterson-Jones with the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Ms. Peterson-Jones said having stakeholders discuss and figure out solutions can help groups improve their practices and help each other.

Angie Sprank with the Department of Corrections Offender Success Program agreed, adding people with various government and private entities trying to assist with housing, employment and other programs need to be reaching out.

“We have to get in each other’s lanes,” Ms. Sprank said.

Panelists told attendees working together does not mean reinventing the wheel but helping complement each other’s work. Assisting each other can help make for a less bumpy transition for many former incarcerated persons who may have significant difficulties understanding programs and processes to obtain long-term employment and affordable housing.

An official with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority agreed, adding raising awareness of programs like housing choice vouchers can help hesitant landlords become more open to renting to people formerly in prison.

Luke Kujacznski with the Urban Alliance said those working with various groups are likely covering all the bases but can do better at helping people at the pace they need. He also said program workers need to understand the complications formerly incarcerated individuals experience on the ground level.

“We need to realize that we’re not any better,” Mr. Kujacznski said.

He then told the story of when he asked a former inmate why he had dropped out of a program. The former inmate, who was African American, had been pulled over for driving without a license in a rural, largely white community near where he worked and had been continuing to drive to work despite not having a license and was arrested.

Mr. Kujacznski told attendees 20 years earlier he had been stopped for what should have been a felony reckless driving arrest in almost the same spot but was not arrested. His point, he said, is some people like him “just haven’t been caught” and people should not judge those who have been in legal trouble without knowing their stories.

A second panel was on the current state of second chance efforts in the state, with panelists informing attendees on the status of legislation that could expand the state’s expungement laws.

Hakim Crampton with Just Leadership USA and Josh Hoe with Safe and Just Michigan spoke about HB 4980, HB 4981, HB 4982, HB 4983, HB 4984, HB 4985 and HB 5120.

The bills, which passed the House earlier this month, would allow certain crimes to be automatically removed from a person’s record after 10 years as well as ease and expand the expungement process.

Supporters of the changes have called the existing process cumbersome for many, with a small percentage of those eligible petitioning to do so.

Mr. Crampton, who was released in 2006 in Wisconsin after spending 15 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, said too many people do not qualify for setting aside their convictions in order to have better access to jobs.

“The courtroom’s a traumatic place,” Mr. Hoe said, sharing his story of committing a crime when younger and having a plea deal thrown out and having to serve a longer term he was not expecting.

Original source:
Release date: November 14, 2019