Providing a Real Second Chance for Future Success

When Governor Doug Ducey set out to reduce recidivism in Arizona, he tasked the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) to collaborate and bring comprehensive support services to inmates nearing release who were most likely to recidivate. In March 2017, the State’s first Second Chance Center opened to provide inmates with a 10-week program designed to prepare them for reentry in our communities and workforce. Since the program’s inception, more than 3,100 are employed and over 4,700 inmates have participated in employment readiness services. Nearly all participants have been connected to state and community resources for housing and transportation assistance, healthcare and more.

Second Chance Center graduates watching a performance by Grammy-nominated flutist, Manose Singh

DES and ADCRR recently hosted the first online ceremony for individuals who graduated from the Arizona Second Chance Centers. The 75 inmates who graduated represent the latest cohort to complete the program. DES and ADCRR representatives were joined by a special guest, Grammy-nominated flutist, Manose Singh, who performed during the ceremony to send the inmates off into a bright, new future. The first Nepali musician to be nominated for a Grammy Award, Singh has volunteered his time to participate in similar events at San Quentin Prison in California. So when he and his associates were approached to perform for the Arizona Second Chance Centers, he gladly accepted the invitation. As Mr. Singh astutely remarked, “Each breath we take is a chance.” In addition, DES Deputy Assistant Director, Lynn Larson, alongside other DES and ADCRR staff, shared some inspiring remarks during the ceremony, including testimonials of program participants who’ve committed themselves to supporting those in need of a second chance. I am grateful for their efforts before, during and after the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reentry Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As with nearly every situation involving the pandemic, the ability to operate the Second Chance Centers was altered by social distancing and safety protocols. To adjust, the reentry team developed and launched the Resource, Employment and Development (RED) program to provide virtual employment services to inmates who are within 30-45 days of release. A pilot session began on August 3, 2020, at the Santa Rosa Unit in Perryville Prison with a total of ten participants. To date, 847 participants have graduated from the RED program, and 727 have been released with most securing employment within 21 days.

RED program sessions are held five days a week for four weeks, with classes and presentations about workforce services, government assistance programs, child support services and more. In addition to the classes facilitated by DES and ADCRR, multiple community partners engage with RED program participants to discuss life skills, money management, career development, recovery support, community awareness and readiness, so inmates are equipped with all the skills and resources necessary to be successful upon reentering the community.

Inmates are also participating again in the Second Chance Centers, with over 200 inmates having completed the program since the centers’ reopened in July 2021 and over 150 are currently enrolled.

Reentry Services Provided Post-Release

In addition to the state’s three Second Chance Centers, reentry employment services are also available post-release in the NATIVE HEALTH Central office, parole offices, reentry centers, and DES and ARIZONA@WORK offices throughout the state as Community Based Reentry Centers (CBRC). These centers are designed to continue to support individuals once they reenter the community, helping them access resources and services, including job search and resume assistance, interview skills training and regular follow-ups to ensure clients receive the support they need.

Governor Doug Ducey meeting with Second Chance Center participants

Breaking Down Barriers

The barriers to employment traditionally faced by former inmates were once insurmountable. Criminal records and gaps in employment have hindered their ability to find work and develop the foundation necessary to rebuild their lives. Without options, many of these inmates would reoffend; but now opportunities exist for inmates looking to make the most of their lives after being released from prison. The availability of the Second Chance Centers and reentry services has proven to be a blessing in the lives of those with a past, who are looking to the future. It’s an honor to be a member of the team that is able to serve inmates in a way that strengthens communities for all.

Michael Wisehart