2008 Winner
State of Arizona
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Prior to 2003, 42 percent of Arizona's released inmates returned to prison within three years of completing their sentences—20 percent for violating probation conditions and 22 percent for committing further crimes. In an effort to decrease relapse, revocation, and recidivism rates, the staff of the Arizona Department of Corrections initiated the Getting Ready: Keeping Communities Safe prison reform program. The program's mission is to prepare inmates for real world reentry beginning the first day of incarceration and continuing throughout the period of their sentences. Unlike in conventional detention facilities where the particulars of daily activities are dictated by prison staff, inmates in Arizona are afforded the opportunity to make choices concerning their institutional lives, consequently reaping the benefits of good decision making and, thus, acquiring the skills necessary to continue to make good decisions upon release.

The Getting Ready: Keeping Communities Safe Program has four facets. First, individual corrections plans are created for all inmates, based on a thorough assessment of security risk and skill development needs, which outline appropriate levels of supervision and recommend participation in programs that promote employability, sobriety, and literacy. Second, employment and educational opportunities are made available to inmates during the "workday"; as well as self-improvement activities, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; and family and community-focused activities during leisure hours. Involvement in productive pursuits is incentivized, as confinement conditions improve with participation. Third, in the year prior to release, inmates prepare more intensively for discharge, focusing their efforts on obtaining a GED or job skills certificate; and, addressing public safety, health, and affordable housing concerns. Lastly, and in general, the entirety of Arizona's penal system operates according to real world standards. Only inmates with GED certificates qualify for coveted work assignments, disciplinary policy focuses on violations of law as opposed to prison rule, and it is the prerogative of prisoners to manage their own time and money.

The success of the Getting Ready: Keeping Communities Safe reform effort is evident. Since the initiation of the program in 2004, prison violence is down, with inmate/inmate and inmate/staff assault dropping 37 percent and 51 percent respectively, with rates of sexual violence and suicide likewise decreasing, the former by 70 percent and the later by 33 percent. Recidivism for the cohort of 2,674 former inmates that participated in each of the program's four component parts is just 1.87 percent as of three years after release. Arizona Department of Corrections detainees earned over 27 percent of all GED certificates awarded in state in each of the past three years and, as of fall 2007, 74 percent of all inmates have a high school equivalency diploma.