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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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New direction: Director of Arizona Corrections, Dora Schriro addresses a group of inmates participating in the “Get Ready” program, which prepares them for reentry into society.

Arizona State Corrections

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When Edward Maxwell III arrived at Arizona’s Lewis prison near Phoenix, he nearly hit rock bottom. The job assigned to the man convicted of first-degree murder was raking – rocks.

The task befit the hopeless place, where in 2004, Lewis inmates held two officers hostage for 15 days, the longest such standoff in United States history.

But that was then.

Today, the head of Arizona corrections says violence inside state prisons has sharply decreased, and released inmates are less likely to return to prison. It’s the result of a new public policy innovation, Arizona officials say, that begins preparing prisoners for reentry to society from their first day in prison. Arizona’s “Getting Ready” program is garnering nationwide attention, as states face skyrocketing incarceration and release rates.

“You start to think about your future more and what you can offer your family, your community, and even the people you victimized,” says Mr. Maxwell in a telephone interview. He has been in prison for 22 years and will be eligible for parole in 2011.

Before Getting Ready, prisoners had no autonomy, says Dora Schriro, director of Arizona Corrections, a system of some 38,000 inmates in 10 prison complexes. They were told when to eat, when to sleep, and not helped to develop positive pastimes. They were ill-prepared to reenter society.

“A good inmate [was someone] who sits in their bunk, follows orders, never talks back. A bad ex-offender will lay on the bed, doesn’t get a job.… Someone who doesn’t learn how to use leisure time,” Ms. Schriro says.

Getting Ready upends those expectations, she says. Within one week of entry, inmates receive a needs assessment and individualized corrections plan. They’re expected to participate in work or education, self-development, and restorative-justice activities seven days a week. Benefits are tied to accomplishing goals.

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