By Ava Montoya
Last week, Arizona Correctional Industries, ARIZONA@WORK, the Arizona Department of Corrections, the Arizona Department of Economic Security and the Arizona Commerce Authority collaboratively hosted the first Employer Reentry Forum. The forum brought correctional programs, employers and former inmates together to expose more of the state’s job creators to what they deem “Arizona’s largest untapped workforce solution.”
According to Charles Ryan, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Arizona’s recidivism rate of around 40 percent is well below the national average of around 60 percent, but there is clearly work to be done.
The event put on display various programs that employ, educate and empower incarcerated individuals to get a job upon release, which drastically reduces the likelihood that they will end up back in the prison system. Deputy Director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security and Public Safety Advisor to the governor Tim Roemer detailed how important it is that the business community participate in its capacity to help reduce recidivism.
“Employers can provide a real second chance to those who’ve paid their debt to society,” said Roemer. “It makes our communities safer, it’s a better deal for our taxpayers and it is the right thing to do.”
Across the state, prisons and jails are implementing programs in attempts to ensure that inmates are employable after release. These tactics include staffing more substance abuse counselors, reentry centers, second chance centers, the post-release fire crew and more. Additionally, an executive order issued by Governor Ducey, known as the “Second Chance Box,” expands job opportunities for individuals who served time by moving questions related to an applicant’s criminal record until after initial interviews. This practice has now been adopted by all state agencies as well as Maricopa County agencies, offering fair consideration to those individuals.
The event highlighted programs like Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI), which employs 2,000 inmates daily, utilizing them for call center teams, construction, printing, wild horse training, carpentry and more.
“ACI provides labor for the private sector and also presents an opportunity to gain employees after the participants are released,” said Brian Radecki, general manager and CEO of ACI.
After participating in an ACI program, individuals are 31 percent less likely to return to prison, which amounted to a $5.5 million savings in 2017 alone.
The forum also included a panel of employers, representing Televerde, Trapp Technology, Home Builders Association of Central Arizona and Hickmans Family Farms, who utilize innovative workforce solutions to provide current and former inmates with employment and meet their labor demands. In addition, the forum was joined by a panel of former inmates who benefitted from such an opportunity or program.
Justin Benjamin, a former inmate who now works as a project support specialist for the Arizona Department of Corrections, described the opportunity that employers have to change individual lives and positively impact the state.
“When you give a person who’s been incarcerated a job, you’re part of that gateway that sets them free,” said Benjamin. “As the employer, you are the change that we all want to see. And you’re backing the investment that we make as a state and as corrections institutions…we’re all investing in these individuals’ lives.”
Learn more about the Chambers of Commerce criminal justice reform efforts.