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Thursday, April 12, 2012
Corrections plans to place parolees in Brighton units
A local agency that holds a contract with the Michigan Department of Corrections to administer the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative in Livingston County has told officials in Brighton that it will place prison parolees in two state-subsidized private rental units within the city.
Brighton Police Chief Thomas Wightman confirmed Friday that a representative from Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County indicated Wednesday that up to four parolees would be placed in two "back-to-back" units on the 200 block of North Second Street.
Wightman said that, currently, no parolees have been placed in the two units, and specified that he was told that sex offenders will not be placed in the units.
That is contrary to two subsidized housing units overseen by the Washtenaw County-based agency in Howell — both of which house parolees, including sex offenders — that came to light in mid-March when residents discovered the fact and brought it to officials' attention.
Wightman said he was glad to know the state's plan in Brighton ahead of time.
"We want to know that kind of information so it's on our radar screen," Wightman said. "Just the knowledge is important to us; I know it's always good practice for the state and local officials to work together."
Wightman said he did not know when parolees would be placed in the two residences, but added that he believed each residence would house up to two parolees.
Mary King, a community coordinator for Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County, said that as of Thursday, two parolees lived at 140 Jewett St. in Howell, at least one of whom is a sex offender.
In addition, the agency oversees a multiunit transitional home at 110 W. Washington St. in Howell that houses six parolees under around-the-clock supervision.
Neighbors who live near the Jewett Street home complained to city officials at a March 26 council meeting that has already led to changes in the way Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County administrates the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative here in Livingston County.
King said her organization met with concerned neighbors, Howell officials, law enforcement and state officials Monday and agreed to notify locals if it rented additional housing in the area in the future.
"We're already made the commitment to folks in Howell to do that, and we've taken that agreement and extended it to Brighton through their local law enforcement," King said. "We're honoring our agreements; we didn't have any before."
State and city officials differ on how notification was supposed to work previously.
Howell Police Chief George Basar said his department was not notified of the Jewett Street home until March 21, five days before the council discussed the issue.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said he believed local law enforcement had been notified about the residence on Jewett Street "from the get-go." In any case, Marlan said, notification should have taken place.
Neighbors in the residential area that contains more than 20 young children believe some state notification would have helped ease the tension.
"If they'd have told us all this stuff before, it probably would have made a difference in our reaction," said Tom Caviston, who lives off Sibley Street. "I know these gentlemen have to exist somewhere, I can't deny that, but how it came about in general still seems backdoorish or underhanded."
Tom Caviston's wife, Teri Caviston; and neighbor Patsy Hicks have placed orange ribbons in the neighborhood to show that the community "will stand together."
"At all costs, I want my kids safe; that is just the truth," said Tom Caviston. "I can be sympathetic to (the parolees), but it's not my fault they are in that position."
Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County began servicing Livingston County in November, King said, replacing the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency.
King said its contract with the state is for $436,000 annually to provide services within Livingston County.
It receives money from the state in order to provide numerous services to parolees, including providing short-term housing, gas cards, employment services, vocational assessments, bus tokens, medications, counseling and cognitive-restructuring services.
Short-term housing subsidies, King said, are common services provided to recent parolees across Livingston County for a maximum of up to six months or until they find sustainable income.
The maximum amount the state pays for this housing, King said, is set through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Regarding the four-bedroom home on Jewett Street, King said her agency entered into a "memorandum of understanding" with the home's landlord, who has agreed to allow the tenants to live there.
Each tenant at the home has an attached Global Positioning System tether, an assigned parole officer who visits the home three times per week, and Marlan said a state-contracted employee checks the home regularly.
King did not specify the exact rent paid, but said it was in line with the state housing authority standards and can not exceed $583 per month — including utilities — for a single room. Four full rooms equates to approximately $2,300 per month.
In addition to the safety concern, Tom Caviston said that as a taxpayer, he feels like he's "getting hosed," noting that he believes the state paying $2,300 to house parolees "far exceeds the going rate" in Howell.
"Not only do we have to live with this, but in my mind's eye, I'm getting hosed because that's a lot of money," he said, adding that he wondered why around-the-clock supervision could not be provided at the Jewett Street home when so many taxpayer dollars are already being spent.
King stated that structured transitional housing, like what is provided to the residence at 110 W. Washington St., is different than providing a rental subsidy, and requires a "higher density" of parolees.
"We're not paying the landlord exorbitant amounts," said King. "From my perspective, God bless (the landlord) that he's willing to rent to people coming out of prison. It is a very important thing."
Marlan said the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative has played a prominent role in reducing recidivism among former prisoners since its inception in 2005.
Prior to the initiative, Marlan said, 40.6 percent of former prisoners ended up back in prison within three years. Now, he said, about 31 percent of prisoners end up back in prison within the same time frame.
As of early April, Livingston County is home to 139 parolees — those who have been sentenced to prison for a crime — and 555 probationers, who did not go to prison.
Of those 694 probationers and parolees, 43 are sex offenders, and six of them live in Howell.
King said in fiscal year 2012 that another 110 parolees are scheduled to be released in Livingston County.
Many will be released into difficult circumstances, with little money and few job opportunities, and King said communities like Brighton and Howell become instrumental in their success because they have access to services to like public transportation.
She understands why neighbors might be concerned when parolees are placed in their neighborhoods, but King noted they should know something else, too.
"Those parolees that have been labeled sex offenders are as afraid of you as you are of them; they know people hate them," King said, referencing the media's exposure of the issue. "There are things people do that are unforgivable, but if they have completed a prison sentence, I feel safer if I know they have a job and I know where they are living. As a society, we are all struggling with that issue."
King said a steering committee is in the works for Livingston County that would act as a "local decision-making entity" regarding these types of issues. It would contain experts in several fields, along with possibly local law enforcement and other officials.
**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.
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