- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A pilot program in Michigan will seek to increase family support for prisoners and help families navigate the prison system.

Lois DeMott, who co-founded Lansing-based Citizens for Prison Reform in 2011, plans to step down from her post as the group’s president to serve as a liaison between prisoners’ families and officials at three prisons, the Detroit Free Press reported (https://on.freep.com/1nDxWA8 ).

DeMott, whose son was incarcerated until about a year ago, said she had a hard time dealing with officials in trying to make sure his medical, mental health and other needs were being met. She learned how to navigate the system through trial and error.

“The prison system has its own language and its own jargon,” DeMott said. “It’s a whole new world” and “so many families don’t even know where to begin or who to talk to.”

The Michigan Family Participation Program is planned for Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility near Muskegon and a third prison to be announced later. It’s funded through a $75,000 grant from a private foundation.

At least three other states have similar programs, DeMott said.

Michigan Department of Corrections Director Dan Heyns supports the program and the department wrote letters to help DeMott secure the grant, spokesman Russ Marlan said. If the pilot program is successful, the department said it could expand to more prisons.

Warden Mary Berghuis, who oversees the Brooks Correctional Facility, said if families are having difficulties it can make things tough for her and other prison officials. For example, phone calls can get placed to the wrong people, and that can lead to frustration.

“Most of these family members haven’t committed any crimes, and they’re taxpayers, too,” Berghuis said. “I think anything we can do to improve family relations is positive.”

DeMott is setting up an office in space loaned by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency in Lansing and plans to launch a website soon.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com

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