Advocates work to slow the revolving door of repeat prisoners

Amy Love, deputy director of government affairs for the Arizona Supreme Court, said a large number of offenders coming into state prisons are brought in on technical violations stemming from prior convictions. (Photo by Hailey Mensik/Cronkite News)

By Hailey Mensik

TEMPE – Officials and experts are exploring a vexing question about the revolving bars of the criminal justice system: How can we stop people from ending back in prison?

Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country, according to speakers at an Arizona Town Hall earlier this month. The Arizona Department of Corrections houses 41,804 inmates.

That costs taxpayers more than $1 billion a year, including for repeat prisoners – 18 percent of those released return to prison within six months.

Charles Ryan, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said former inmates’ access to meaningful jobs is key to keeping them from returning to prison. (Photo by Hailey Mensik/Cronkite News)

Investing in more opportunities for offenders to get jobs after release, along with other resources to help settle back into society could help slow the revolving door, presenters said. They also recommended hiring more parole officers and reducing or eliminating sentences to keep certain violators out.

The corrections department aims to reduce recidivism, or the rate of those who return to prison, by 25 percent in 10 years, according to director Charles Ryan. He said inmates’ access to meaningful jobs is key and employers should consider the untapped labor pool.

Ryan said Hickman’s Family Farms is a good example, which works with the Department of Corrections and employs about 400 male and female inmates. The company hires many of them after prison, Ryan said, and even built 40 studio apartments on its property to alleviate housing issues for former inmates who work there.

Tara Jackson, president of Arizona Town Hall, said the state lacks enough halfway houses because neighbors resist having convicts nearby, fearing increased crime. That’s a growing barrier to helping former offenders assimilate.

“In Maricopa County, it’s almost impossible to open up re-entry centers,” Jackson said.

“It’s hard to reintegrate if you can’t come back to where your support system is, you can’t get a job, and there’s no housing for you.”

Amy Love, deputy director of government affairs for the Arizona Supreme Court, said a large number of offenders coming into state prisons are brought in on technical violations stemming from prior convictions, such as dirty drug tests or missed visits with parole officers.

“We need to make sure folks aren’t being sent to prison unnecessarily,” Love said, recommending bolstering the budget to hire more parole officers to monitor people convicted of minor, non-violent crimes.

Bills pushing criminal-justice reform this legislative session have gained little traction, including House Bill 2270, which would have allowed inmates a chance to reduce their sentences by completing education and treatment programs. But the bill failed this session.

The laws proposed were too broad said Donna Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform. Instead, she said reforms should be incremental and centered on shortening the sentences of certain kinds of offenders. Also, she said, it makes sense to use resources on prisoners who want to change rather than career criminals.

“Some people go to prison because it’s the cost of doing business as a major drug dealer,” Hamm said. “That person, of course, has to be interested in personal change and growth, and frankly, not every person who goes to prison is interested.”

“We have to have a classification system that separates the people who want to change and will work on it from those who just want to do their time,” she said.


  1. Its easy just ENFORCE all sentencing laws on the books now. But that is not the answer for the libs as it would decimate their voter base. In west Va some years back they added FED laws on the use of guns to the sentencing (5 additional years at a minimum) and the crime rate dropped considerably. In chicago they dont enforce any laws and just give a slap on the wrist and then wonder why nothing has been accomplished. Pretty much the same problem in ny, baltimore, sf, la, etc.
    As to drug users they tried such things in scandinavian countries and still it didnt work. So lock em up and enforce the drug laws. Legalization is not working here in the states either and is contributing to other problems like vehicle accidents and stuff!

  2. One solution is actually rather simple: Repeal all laws that do not involve initiatory force or fraud.
    That means, “criminals” will be those stealing, robbing, burglarizing, raping, defrauding, but not someone growing a vegetable.
    It might mean jail for bank robbers, rapists, burglars, car thieves, politicians, but not for someone smoking a plant.
    Unless the numbers have changed since I last looked, an overwhelming majority of people in U.S. prisons and jails are there for consensual “crimes,” meaning usually drugs, selling, buying, manufacturing, or using.
    People who write and enforce such laws are far more dangerous than the people who use the drugs.

  3. Years ago I did a statistical cohort analysis for a large jail in Washington state on recidivism. The actual study was not to determine how many ended back in the system but to look at attributes of those who did not end up back in jail. I found that out of 1,500 consecutive bookings starting on a random date, 68% were rebooked within 18 months. When I looked at the reason the other 32% were not booked again into jail, the main reasons were 1) they were in prison and 2) they were dead.

    That showed the group (non recidivist) that we were considering as a success were either in prison or in jail. Not really much success there. This 68% pretty well reflects other facilities through the nation. There is no huggy, fuzzy solution to this. All the feel good, give me more money to solve this problem, people are simply doing what they have been doing for decades with no success.

    Hey, let’s try it again. Who knows maybe the 54,297th time it will work.

  4. Its only going to get worse
    More offenders are being caught
    More offenders are commiting crimes
    Criminals are being made everyday
    Gangs, their early homelife,
    Their early up bringing,
    Your spinning your wheels
    Hate to tell ya that your going to need more room and more prisons !

    Until the drugs stop coming in to American and the border and the stop of illegals coming in Crime is going to go up not down
    That 16 teen yr old brought up in a drug riddled family will become a criminal
    Theres no end to this, Criminals are being born daily and more of them thanks to the open Borders,
    Until you stop that this will continue This idiot program is only help a few but the rest and more will join the system
    Crimes committed by under 18 yrs are going up not down

    Lack of American morals And stupidity by people like this reform are the problem
    Their skipping steps to the Roots of this problem, it starts at home
    Less illegal Drugs, Drug Education Sex Education
    Better home life Better parenting Better schooling Better jobs
    Better teachings of faith
    Less illegals and shutting down the border is key to this problem
    What a waste of time and money to save a few Start from the begining Criminals arent born they are made.
    This reform is go no wherecbut to make room for more younger criminals
    The fighting between Dems Are hurting us more ways then you see
    It reflects on our youth
    The greed and stupidity and waste of money is whats wrong
    Ask the criminals them selves how they got there in the first place
    That answer sirs is the solving of over poplution and maybe just maybe if you work real hard and stop looking at dollars signs
    You can stop them Before they get there
    You got it so backwards

  5. The first 24 hours after an inmate is released are the most critical. Where that person goes determines what his fate will be. Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry also understood, that an inmate needs more than a place to crash, but needs to have a change of heart. If that happens while in incarceration, the recidivism rate is so much lower than secular rehab models. Seems to me that that would be the focus, if one truly wants these ex-offenders not to end up back in the system.

Comments are closed.