Program helps Arizona prisoners get ready for real life
From Day One, inmates are treated like adults, lowering the chance they will return.
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In 2004, Schriro faced budget cuts and a prison population up 17 percent. Getting Ready was implemented without any new funds. Instead, corrections staff received additional training and rearranged their schedules for expanded services and hours.Skip to next paragraph
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In other states, “If [prisoners] are lucky, they’ll get one service,” says Amy Solomon, a criminal justice expert with the Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington. Often that treatment is self-help, like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Prisoners often have multiple challenges. More than two-thirds have “substantial” substance-abuse histories. Many have spotty employment records and serious health issues, Ms. Solomon says.
America’s growing prison population
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), some 1.5 million sentenced inmates were under state or federal jurisdiction in 2007, a four-fold increase since 1980. That growth has made meeting the various challenges of inmates difficult, Solomon says.
“The thought was always that they were locking up bad people and keeping them away,” Solomon says. “But about a decade ago or so, people realized that 95 percent are coming back and we’ll have to do something different.”
About two-thirds of the 650,000 inmates released from prison each year will be arrested again within three years, according to the BJS.
Last April, Congress passed the “Second Chance Act,” authorizing some $360 million for prisoner reentry programs. Getting Ready, which Gaes says is replicable, is among those commanding attention.
It already boasts powerful results: 75 percent of inmates in the program have a GED. Inmate-on-inmate assault is down more than one-third. Inmate-on-staff assault is down by more than half. Drug use, suicide, and rape are also down.
The recidivism rate is less than 2 percent for some 3,000 inmates who have completed the program in its entirety since 2004.
Donna Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform Inc., a prisoner-advocacy organization in Tempe, Ariz., says its premature to declare Getting Ready a success, and that these statistics mask real trouble in Arizona prisons including continued violence and gang activity.
"I see an attempt to gloss over very serious institutional problems ... to appear the department [of corrections] is making great strides," Ms. Hamm says.
Hamm says she'd like to see the program undergo a formal program evaluation by a university or independent institution, and focus on other indicators of success.
Prison problems don't "get erased by having your own alarm clock or choosing to go to breakfast [which is] inconsequential if you fear for your life in prison," she says.
But Lewis correctional officer Christina Duran says the program ushered in a sea change in the place she once considered “an undeclared state of war.”
“We kept them locked down and did everything for them. They started to rely on us heavily, and there was resentment from staff who had to force them to do things,” she says.
Today, “When I hit that yard, I have so many ‘good mornings’ I can’t keep up with them,” she says, attributing the environment to inmates enjoying the chance to be adults.
Maxwell, who hopes to be a writer upon release, says he’s ready to be an adult outside prison walls.
“I’m responsible for my own actions,” he says. “You can earn something by doing it the natural way, and that’s by showing up day in and day out and involving everyone else in the process.”