BUCKEYE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Inmates at two Arizona state prisons are helping to come up with answers to questions about what causes crime and how to prevent it.

The inmates took part in a pair of town halls inside the Whetstone prison in Tucson and the Lewis prison outside Buckeye.

"What we are experiencing today has never happened before," said Tara Jackson, who is the president of Arizona Town Hall. The organization holds town-hall-style meetings across the state each year, tackling complex topics and problems. The goal is to come up with solutions.

"What really makes this unique is that in these discussions every voice is equal. Titles are left at the door and it’s all about trying to look at and solve issues surrounding our criminal justice system," said Jackson.

CBS 5 Investigates attended the town hall at the Lewis prison in September. It took place in the prison's Second Chance Center and involved inmates who were considered at a moderate to high risk of re-offending when they are released.

The inmates spoke to community volunteers and town-hall facilitators about the reasons they ended up behind bars and what can be done to prevent them from returning or breaking the law in the first place.

"I think it’s a great first step," said Steven Varnadore, who is serving a multi-year sentence. He said he believes the main causes of crime in Arizona are drug abuse and mental health problems.

Varnadore said he was using this opportunity to push for more rehabilitation programs in prison.

"Rehabilitation needs to be first and foremost from the day you arrive in prison," he said.

"I would like to get across to the town hall is more opportunity for people who are coming in with drug crimes to be treated," said Jeremy Schall. He is also serving a multi-year sentence and said the community needs to do more to help inmates who are being released.

Arizona Town Hall officials took notes and gathered data from this event, as well as others in communities across the state. They will put together a report and deliver it to lawmakers, policymakers and make it available to ordinary citizens.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

CBS 5 Investigative Reporter

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