'Suits 4 Success' to help parolees and celebrates 'Gideon' case

The Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative (MPRI) in Washtenaw County and the Washtenaw County Bar Association in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Public Defender's Office, other local defense attorneys, and Community Support and Treatment Services are pleased to announce the creation of Suits 4 Success to provide professional clothing to parolees who are job-ready.

The kick-off event for clothing donations will be Thursday, March 11 starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Rathskeller at the Heidelberg, 215 N. Main St., Ann Arbor during the happy hour hosted by the Washtenaw Bar Association's Criminal Law Section and New Lawyers Section.

Three other later events also are planned.

Happy hour attendees are asked to bring new clothes or clean, lightly worn, and in-style clothing with them to the Heidelberg.

Monetary donations will be accepted as well. MPRI is a non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible.

MPRI of Washtenaw County assists over 300 parolees every year with their transformation to becoming productive citizens.

After intensive job-readiness training, parolees are expected to maintain consistent job application logs and be out in the community daily networking and looking for employment.

Suits 4 Success was created to clothe these compliant and job-ready MPRI participants.

For the past few months a few lawyers who do criminal defense work in Washtenaw County have been working to start a clothes closet for these men and women seeking employment.

Several attorneys from the Public Defender's Office: Lloyd E. Powell (Chief Public Defender), Delphia Simpson, Elaine Spiliopoulos, and S. Joy Gaines came together with Lynn D'Orio, Michael Carter, Erane Washington, and Erika Julien to start a clothes closet for formerly incarcerated men and women.

As criminal defense attorneys they felt uniquely positioned to understand the needs of this underserved and overlooked population.

All attorneys find themselves called to public service, but criminal defense lawyers serve those whom the general population often sees as undeserving of assistance and support. Washtenaw County's criminal defense bar sees its role as not just advocating for access to justice in the courtroom, but also as advocates for opportunity in society.

The Suits 4 Success organizing group could think of no better way to illustrate this than by organizing its campaign in March, the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that guarantees access to counsel.

The attorneys brought their idea to the Washtenaw County Bar Association board who agreed to sponsor a two-week clothing drive.

Unemployment has been identified as a contributing factor to many new crimes committed by formerly incarcerated persons.

Although unemployment cannot be separated from the multiple factors that contribute to reoffending, the inability to meet basic needs may facilitate an individual's return to criminal activity.

As little as a 10 percent decrease in pay has been associated with a 20 percent increase in criminal activity. However, research has clearly and consistently shown that securing and maintaining legitimate employment is one of the most effective factors in reducing recidivism.

One of the barriers to men and women gaining employment is that they don't have suitable interview clothing. It is also not unusual for people who have been incarcerated to not even know what is appropriate to wear to an interview.

Before being contacted by the criminal defense bar, the MPRI did not have a way to meet the need for appropriate interview clothing for ex-offenders. Without some way to ensure that their clients have interview clothing, formerly incarcerated men and women would continue to have difficulty obtaining employment.

However, the Public Defender's Office along with some dedicated local defense attorneys have brought together the entire legal community of Washtenaw so that these men and women will have access to professional clothing thereby eliminating one of the barriers to employment and making it possible for them become contributing members of society.

Entry to the event is free and open to the public.

Future Events

MPRI Clothing Drop-Off: March 18, 4-7 p.m. at Catholic Social Services (4925 Packard, 48108);

Washtenaw County Public Defender Drop-Off: March 19, 12 noon- 2:30 p.m. at Public Defenders Office (110 N 4th Ave, 48104);

Suits 4 Success Happy Hour and Drop-Off: March 31, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at The Earl (121 W Washington St, 48104).

Published: Thu, Mar 11, 2010