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Program helps Arizona prisoners get ready for real life

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Implemented in 2004 with significant input from correctional officers, community members, and prisoners, Getting Ready creates a “parallel universe” in prison, reflecting as much of the outside world’s challenges and opportunities as possible.

“I wake up and think, ‘Yeah – I get to go to work today, and work in a harmonious atmosphere,’ ” says Maxwell, who now maintains the program’s roster for the prison. Having a prison job isn’t unusual. But Maxwell wakes himself up, and chooses whether he wants to go to breakfast. No one else does that for him, or any of the prisoners.

Privileges gained through work, education
As prisoners complete the goals outlined in their assessment, they accrue stature, responsibility, and increased opportunities.

“As you get your GED [high school equivalency degree], like in your world and in mine, you can apply for jobs that are closed to you if you don’t have a GED,” Ms. Schriro says.

Choose not to get an education? Your wages are frozen at entry level. Complete substance abuse treatment and cultural awareness workshops? You get more privileges at the canteen, visits where family members can bring in food, and other perks.

Criminal Justice consultant Gerry Gaes recently visited four of Arizona’s prison complexes as part of a Harvard Kennedy School innovations awards program. Getting Ready is a finalist. What’s innovative, Mr. Gaes says, is the intensity with which the graduated system of incentives is implemented. “I’ve never seen it done to the point it’s done there,” he says, citing the opportunity for families to bring in home-cooked meals. “It could introduce contraband. They take a risk in doing that, but the inmates clearly enjoy it.” [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Mr. Gaes's first name.]

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