ACCORDING TO MOST major surveys, crime is one of the biggest issues most Americans are concerned with. Granted, much of the crime we hear about is happening in bigger cities than we have in the Upper Peninsula, but crime is an issue here as well.
Reports on how we are fighting crime are always less dramatic than reports on crime itself. Bad news gets the headlines, while good news gets buried on page six.
But, there is a bit of good news on the crime-fighting front worth the front page, and it has to do with what’s being done to reduce recidivism. Although recidivism rates vary among age groups and criminal activity, it’s safe to say that more than 50% of criminals are repeat offenders, and that’s where a new program being championed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel may have a measurable impact.
Under a statewide initiative introduced by Governor Whitmer called MI Safe Communities, American Rescue Plan dollars are being used to create a framework to reduce violent crime and increase public safety across Michigan. Under the MI Safe Communities umbrella, AG Nessel has announced a proposal to put Michiganders accused of low-level, nonviolent offenses into good-paying jobs, thereby reducing the chance of becoming a repeat offender while helping businesses find qualified employees.
The plan is called Jobs Court, and it’s being introduced as a pilot program in three Michigan counties: Wayne, Genesee, and Marquette.
According to Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese, the program is still in the development phase as funding sources and program partners are being identified, but initial reaction from the law enforcement community has been positive.
And why not? Low-level offenders are clogging our courts and jails, while being given the scarlet letter of the criminal and further diminishing their chances of becoming contributing members of society.
It’s almost impossible for our law enforcement agencies to forestall first time offenders. That’s the responsibility of parents, and Lord knows we have room for improvement there. But once someone’s in the system, there’s a chance at rehabilitation… if we try. And that appears to be the goal of the Jobs Court program.
A couple of years ago we might have heard negative responses like… “You’re giving jobs to criminals when I can’t find one?” But with employers in desperate need of workers and the competition for jobs being almost non-existent, the time is ripe for job-focused rehabilitation.
Marquette has always seemed like a pretty safe city, but statistics indicate that it might not be as safe as we think. Depending on what sources you check, our property crime rates are lower than those statewide, but not dramatically lower, and our assault rates are not much different than those nationwide. Regardless of the rate of crime, any and all crime should be considered unacceptable.
Just as our safe city is going through changes, circumstances change too, and not always for the better. A program that addresses crime, and particularly repeat offenders, should be a welcomed effort, and something that might help keep our city one where we don’t need bars on our windows.
You may not have any criminals in your midst, or you may have never been the victim of a crime, but you are probably one of those Americans who sees crime, both violent and non-violent, as a threat to our way of life. And you may have expressed frustration at rising levels of crime and what you see as an inadequate response to that development. If so, this new program should be something you can get behind.
If you’re an employer, you can be open to hiring someone who’s trying to break their circle of criminal activity before it becomes unbreakable. If you’re just a law-abiding citizen, who hopes the guy next door is too, you should be open to a program that puts people in jobs instead of jail.
Again… Jobs Court is not a flashy topic for Word on the Street. But we should be able to agree that being able to walk our streets at night, in any neighborhood, is something much more appealing than the alternative.
Although Matt Weise probably finds professional satisfaction in his job, it’s likely he would welcome a lighter schedule. “I’m looking forward to launching this initiative in Marquette County as I believe it will give people who have historically not had opportunities, not only a decent well-paying job, but the opportunity to be a successful contributor to our community.”
The role of police in public safety has been tossed around quite a bit lately. Police presence is certainly a deterrence to crime, but it’s also true that police often show up after the crime has been committed. If we really want to address crime prevention, we need to address the cause… before we get to the symptoms. The Jobs Court pilot program is a step in that direction.