Thank you so much for having me here today to speak on behalf of Governor Ducey on our efforts to provide a real second chance to those who have already paid their debt to society and served their time behind bars.
I’d first like to thank directors Ryan and Trailor for their hard work implementing and helping to lead these important efforts that will not only make our communities safer, get a better deal for our tax payers, but it’s also the right thing to do.
Recently the governor toured the Second Chance Center at the Lewis Prison Complex in Buckeye and it was an amazing tour with both of the directors who just gave opening comments. The governor was so impressed that, as he was walking out, he said to us, “this is great work, but let’s make sure that it’s only just the beginning.”
That’s exactly why so many of us are here in this room today. Because we’ve had a great start to these wonderful efforts that can and will truly make a difference. But we also have to keep in mind that this is just the beginning. We are just starting to see the successes of these programs and it continues to motivate us and encourage us to do more. And that’s why we are so appreciative of everyone that’s in this room to help us in these efforts.
We simply can’t do it alone. The governor can’t do it alone. The Department of Corrections can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork and in order to make corrections truly become corrections we need that type of teamwork. We need these employers to come to table and work with us to provide these real second chances because it is truly a win-win for everyone.
We’re so fortunate to live in a great state with a thriving economy with these job openings. But we have this huge, untapped workforce coming out of the prison system that deserve these opportunities, that will work hard and will do a great job and will truly become a success for all of us.
Some of the things we have done in the State of Arizona: We modeled the Pima Reentry Center concept and created the Maricopa Reentry Center, which we’re thrilled to have. The reason why reentry centers are so important is that it gives the Department of Corrections and the State of Arizona another option. Instead of violating somebody who’s struggling and sending them back to prison, they can go to the reentry center, get the treatment and resources they need to get back onto their feet, become successful and become a contributing member of society.
We’ve also created the Second Chance Centers at three of our prison complexes. I can’t tell you how great it is to tour these facilities on a regular basis with the staffs that help run them and talk directly with the inmates. It is so motivating to see types of changes that are being made. So many individuals who have said, “this is my second, third, fourth time in the prison system and this is the first time that I’ve got everything I need to be successful when I’m released.”
Getting them the resources and opportunities they need prior to release will help them become more successful. Whether it’s a driver’s license, a job, or a resume… any number of things that we’re arming them with so that they can be successful is really making a difference. The post release fire crew as well. The governor has met with a former inmate who is serving on this post release fire crew, fighting wild fires in Arizona which is such a huge threat to our state, and he told the governor that when he was in prison he felt like a zero, he didn’t have anything. But when he joined this fire crew, now he goes to fight these wild fires throughout the state and he sees the way he’s treated by all the locals and all the people from the community and he said, “now I feel like a hero!”
These are the types of impacts that all of us in this room can make. We can help these individuals go from feeling like a zero to feeling like a hero.
We’ve added additional substance abuse counselors, we know that we unfortunately have a drug problem that the entire country does. We are investing in the treatment needed for these individuals behind bars to help them get off that dependency to the substances that they’re addicted to.
And I’m proud to say that the governor helped lead the way by signing an executive order called the “Real Second Chance Box” that gives individuals the chance they need, the fairness to get a job, not have to check the box of whether or not you’ve been convicted of a felony first in the process, but rather later in the process after they’ve had a chance to interview for a job and to prove to the employer that they are the right person for that job. Because sadly, too many times, people with a criminal history weren’t getting a fair chance. If you checked that box that you’ve been convicted of a felony, too many employers were saying, “no we’re going to go with somebody else,” instead of giving you the shot to at least interview.
By moving that box to the end of the process, it helps give them a fair chance for that job. It’s actually good for the employer because they could end up getting a better, more qualified person because of this. Now the governor wasn’t going to tell the private sector what to do, but, I’m happy to report that many private sector companies in Arizona and around the country are following this type of lead, including Maricopa County that passed this same policy for all jobs in Maricopa County so now we have this policy for all state jobs in Maricopa County and others as well.
I’d like to close with what an honor it truly is to serve in this capacity. When I originally came on to serve as the Deputy Director of the Department of Homeland Security and then on as his Public Safety Policy Advisor, there were a lot of issues that I was excited to work on. But I didn’t truly understand how much this issue was going to make an impact on me until I really started to tour the prisons with Director Ryan and work with a lot of great people in this room which I’m so thankful for because, looking around the room, I recognize so many people that I work really closely with. The reason why it’s such an honor to work on this specific issue of reducing recidivism is that it tackles so many of the issues that we’re faced with in our society. It really, absolutely can make our community stronger and safer by helping these individuals get back on their feet. Because that leads to less crime and less drug addiction in our society. And as the Governor’s Public Safety Policy Advisor that’s a huge win.
But you also look at it from the totality of the circumstance, that we know it’s expensive to incarcerate these individuals, but if we can save that money and put it back into other resources, that’s a better deal for the tax payers as well. And I always like to close with the fact (and I know I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again) It’s the right thing to do for the individuals who have already paid their debt to society and served their time behind bars.
So thank you for being part of this. We’re really excited to work with all of you.