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New program to help families of Michigan prisoners

Larry Farr

Helping prison officials and the families of prisoners communicate better is the goal of a pilot project at three Michigan prisons. So is providing support to the families of prisoners.

The privately funded Family Participation Program will partner with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

MDOC spokesperson Russ Marlan says it's hard for family members to negotiate the unfamiliar world of prisons. 

He said having an independent liaison for each prison will make it easier for family members to get their questions answered.

"I think it can really help with family members. It can help with the prisoner population, knowing that there's someone to respond to their family's questions, " he said. "And I think it's going to decrease the workload for our staff, as well, who are getting a lot of these same phone calls every day."

Marlan says families want to know things like when can they visit, how do they call, is their relative receiving necessary medical or mental health treatment? And he said rules and programs can differ at each facility, creating new questions when prisoners are transferred.

The Family Participation Program is the brainchild of Lois DeMott. Her son was in the Michigan prison system, so she knows firsthand why families don't know where to turn.

"This program is going to be working with families teaching them how to navigate the system, and  teaching them how to be the best advocates for their loved ones who are incarcerated," DeMott says.

She says one goal is to help prisoners and their families stay connected. She said this helps inmates do better in prison and have more success upon release.

DeMott says the program will have a Website next week. She can be reached by email at familyparticipationprogram@gmail.com.

–Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom