Michigan taps data partnership to reduce recidivism

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The Michigan Department of Corrections last week announced a new partnership aimed at using the state’s data to further lower its recidivism rate.

Officials on Thursday said that a three-year contract with Recidiviz, a nonprofit that develops a data platform for corrections departments, could help to identify which programs are working well and which hidden factors might be leading people back to prison.

The nonprofit, which claims on its website to work with five other states — Idaho, North Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee and Pennsylvania — markets its platform as a solution for government’s unwieldy and uneven reporting structures.

“Criminal justice analysis today is often done manually, which makes it expensive and time consuming,” the group’s website reads. “Delays can have significant consequences, including an inability to recognize trends as they appear.”

Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for the Michigan corrections department, told StateScoop the first phase of work will be to wrangle the state’s data.

“A lot of what they’re doing is taking the data that we have and that we collect and putting it in a way that’s going to be really useful for us,” Gautz said. “It’s stuff that we all have but we may not have put it in a digestible way or looked at it in a certain way or even have the technological abilities to do that.”

He said the department is sometimes limited by its “very antiquated” computer systems.

The project will endeavor to further reduce a recidivism rate that is already among the lowest in the country, Gautz said. But at 26.6%, Michigan still has plenty of room for improvement.

Gautz said the department hopes Recidiviz can help the state to identify factors — such as certain programs, geographical locations that may lack programs or type of crime — that might contribute to someone’s decision to reoffend.

He pointed to the state’s “vocational villages,” which teach inmates trades like masonry, plumbing and welding, as an example of the shift in approach that occurred in the department when Director Heidi Washington took over in 2015. He said the department has career counselors who help former inmates find employment after they’re released.

“We’ve really ramped up the kind of things we’re doing to help parolees in terms of using new evidence-based practices and techniques,” he said. “The first step is to onboard all of that data, and there’s a lot of it.”

Pennsylvania officials last month announced a similar partnership with Recidiviz to develop a public data dashboard hoped to improve transparency of the corrections department’s operations. The dashboard, which illustrates statistics using interactive graphics, includes three main categories — prisons, parole and racial disparities. The racial disparities tab, for example, shows that “Black Pennsylvanians are 6.5 times as likely to be under DOC control as their white counterparts,” and goes on to explain some of the measures the state is taking, such as Gov. Tom Wolf’s Clean Slate law, which removed roughly 35 million low-level criminal offenses from records.

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criminal justice, Department of Corrections, Michigan, Pennsylvania, recidivism