Ducey pushes efforts to cut recidivism by helping inmates find, hold jobs

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The Arizona Department of Corrections worked with Gov. Doug Ducey to add employment centers in prisons in a move to find jobs for prisoners and reduce Arizona’s recidivism rate. (Source: Jenna Aronson/Cronkite News) The Arizona Department of Corrections worked with Gov. Doug Ducey to add employment centers in prisons in a move to find jobs for prisoners and reduce Arizona’s recidivism rate. (Source: Jenna Aronson/Cronkite News)

By NKIRUKA OMEROYNE
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has pushed for several new programs to try to reduce recidivism among convicted felons.

In November, he announced a pilot program to help get former inmates to their jobs after they’re released. He also has implemented a “ban the box” policy in hiring for state agencies. And he has led efforts to add employment centers to state prisons.

[RELATED: Arizona bans the box requiring a criminal history]

“We are committed to providing real second-chance opportunities to those who have paid their debt to society,” Ducey said in a statement.

Tim Roemer, the governor’s public safety policy adviser, said there’s a good reason Ducey has focused so much attention on the issue.

“Recidivism is a public safety concern,” he said. “So the same individuals are committing the same crimes. So No. 1, we think reducing recidivism makes our communities safer.”

[RELATED: New hiring policy by Arizona agencies could curb recidivism]

Researchers estimated states could save more than $635 million combined in one year alone in averted prison costs if they reduced recidivism rates by just 10 percent, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Arizona launched its “Uber for Jobs” program late last year. The state partnered with the ride-sharing company – each contributing $5,000 – to provide rides to former inmates who need to get to their jobs.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona politics]

The governor’s office cited a survey by Arizona State University researchers of more than 400 inmates at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. More than half of the respondents identified a lack of reliable transportation as a barrier to successful re-entry to society and the working world, according to a news release.

The state also has launched employment programs inside three state prisons. Specialists help inmates with skills such as resume building, interviewing, managing money, dressing professionally and explaining criminal convictions to an employer.

“The top eight risk factors for recidivism include employment and employability skills,” said Karen Hellman, director for the Division of Inmate Programs and Reentry at the corrections department. Her department oversees the employment centers at the prisons.

“With our folks, it’s of particular importance because they’re going to face an all-important question about their background,” she said. “And they need to feel comfortable explaining their background. Being honest about their background, but also being able to tell an employer why – even despite their background – they’re still a potential good employee.”

Misty Robledo said she has been to prison three times, but she’s confident this will be her last.

“This program has opened so many doors for me,” she said. “It’s helped me with building my resume, and I just have the confidence and the self-esteem to go back out there and try to find a better job.”

Ducey also signed an executive order in November that requires state agencies to delay questions about applicants’ criminal records until after they pass through an initial employment interview, according to a release.

Officials estimated that 1.5 million adults in Arizona have arrests or convictions on their records, according to a news release.

The governor called his effort “Second Chance Box.” Similar efforts are known nationwide as “ban the box.”

Grassroots organization All of Us or None started the national campaign with the goal of getting states to pass legislation that removes the felony checkbox on job applications so ex-offenders have a better chance at getting a job interview.

The goal is to get employers to first judge applicants by their qualifications and personality, not their criminal records, Beth Avery, a lawyer with nonprofit National Employment Law Project, a labor rights nonprofit, told Cronkite News in 2017.

However, some critics have questioned the policy’s effectiveness.

– Cronkite News reporters Jenna Aronson and Chris Silavong contributed to this article.

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