It is no secret that the last several decades have not been kind to the city of Detroit. Once a thriving center of industry and the undisputed champion of automobile manufacturing, Detroit has seen its population shrink, its unemployment rates skyrocket, and its infrastructure crumble. The city’s crime rates are among the highest in the nation, and a higher percentage of Detroit citizens live below the poverty line than in any other major city in the United States.
In 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, becoming the largest municipality in U.S. history to do so. Now, having exited bankruptcy, the city is seeking to reestablish itself as a vibrant and healthy urban center.
And a key to its success in doing so are the men and women returning to their communities from prison.
“The Detroit we are building is one where everyone’s contributions are valued and needed, and that extends to our returning citizens [from prison],” Detroit Mayor Mike Dugan says in a Detroit News article. “Thousands of returning citizens are coming home to their families and their city, and we need to make sure that there are opportunities here for them, especially jobs.”
Every year, an estimated 5,000 people return to Wayne County, Michigan, following a period of incarceration. Helping these former prisoners find housing, employment, and a support network designed to reduce recidivism is not only a benefit to them, but is also a way to improve the neighborhoods to which they return.
“This is beyond the moral issue,” asserts Carl S. Taylor, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University. “It is a smart investment and if done correctly it gives young men skills to get back to the workforce.”
When assessing the costs of crime and incarceration, one thing that is often forgotten are the “opportunity costs” that come from having men and women, many with unique and marketable skills, locked away and unable to provide their services to their communities. Those returning from prison can have a positive impact on their neighbors and contribute to places, like Detroit, that are longing to have engaged citizens committed to improving the towns and cities where they live.
Prison Fellowship’s Second Prison Project understands that when a prisoner is transformed, that transformation is not limited to the person, but extends to their families, their communities, and beyond. By providing opportunities for those who have paid the price for past crimes and who want to prove that they can have a positive impact on lives around them, restoration occurs, and people are changed for the better.
As Detroit continues its comeback from its economic challenges, its leaders would be well advised to remember those who are making their own “comebacks” from poor decisions and are actively seeking to take what they have learned and turn it into something positive. The larger comeback for Detroit—and other towns and cities across the country—depends on the success of these “micro-comebacks” taking place every day on the streets and in the neighborhoods within it.