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Getting the facts: Maricopa Reentry Center operating in north Phoenix

8/31/16

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

PHOENIX – Maricopa Reentry Center, a facility to house recently released inmates, started operating near I-17 and Pinnacle Peak Road this summer. Many local residents hadn’t heard about the reentry center before the opening, and some have expressed concerns over the uses of the center. To get the facts on this center – who would be housed there, security, follow-up – The Foothills Focus contacted the Arizona Department of Corrections, which responded in detail.

Andrew Wilder, Director of Communications/Media Relations for the Arizona Department of Corrections, noted via email that the Maricopa County Reentry Center (MRC) was part of the Arizona Department of Correction’s decision package for FY16.

“The MRC mirrors the successful Pima Reentry Center in Tucson, which opened in December 2012,” Wilder said. “The goal of these community corrections centers is to assist offenders in successfully completing their term of supervision by providing treatment alternatives to sending community corrections violators back to prison. Inmates who have served at least 85% of their court-ordered prison sentence are released to community supervision status. These offenders are required to report regularly to an assigned Community Corrections Officer and abide by their terms of community supervision.”

‘Doing the time for doing the crime’ is a long-established part of law and order. However, what becomes of former prisoners when they are eligible for release can be uncertain, and lawmakers and law enforcement frequently look at ways to reduce the rate of recidivism and help former prisoners rejoin society and become productive citizens.

In a Jan. 12, 2015 Congressional Research Service report, Analyst in Crime Policy Nathan James wrote: “Compared with the average American, ex-offenders are less educated, less likely to be gainfully employed, and more likely to have a history of mental illness or substance abuse—all of which have been shown to be risk factors for recidivism.” (Offender Reentry: Correctional Statistics, Reintegration into the Community)

The specifics cited by James as likely contributors to recidivism rates are addressed at reentry centers. ADC representative Wilder noted vital services provided by these centers: outpatient substance abuse treatment; residential substance abuse treatment; cognitive restructuring classes; assistance in finding employment; life skills classes; sanctions; day reporting; and temporary housing for offenders who have not yet secured permanent housing and would otherwise be living on the streets.

“Despite the relative lack of highly rigorous research on the effectiveness of some reentry programs, an emerging “what works” literature suggests that programs focusing on work training and placement, drug and mental health treatment, and housing assistance have proven to be effective,” analyst James wrote in Offender Reentry: Correctional Statistics, Reintegration into the Community.

James noted in the comprehensive report that different studies define offenses considered recidivism in sometimes dissimilar ways. However, he wrote that other outcome measures show positive results from programs such as reentry centers.

“While the emphasis on reducing recidivism is important, programs can also be evaluated based on other outcome measures such as their ability to connect ex-offenders with jobs, services, and institutions in their communities. The best available research has shown that there are a number of services that can help ex-offenders reconnect with their communities and lower recidivism, including programs focusing on providing vocational training, substance abuse prevention, mental health services, and housing,” James wrote in the report conclusion.

In the case of the Maricopa County center, the ADC cites the effectiveness of the Pima County Reentry Center. Since the center opened in 2012, a consistent decrease is indicated in new crimes being committed by supervised offenders.

Funding for the Maricopa County center was approved in May 2016, and the ADC said notifications were circulated to state lawmakers, council members, the Deer Valley Unified School District Board, and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors at that time. A public hearing was also held.

The center began limited operations this past July.

“The Community Corrections Office was opened and ADC began housing a small number of offenders who would otherwise be without safe housing. Having these offenders temporarily housed at the center allows for ADC staff to keep a closer eye on them and assist them to find permanent housing,” Wilder noted.

As of this month, the center also is accepting offenders for short term stays as a sanction for low level violations of their terms of community supervision. Wilder said sanctions typically range from 1-3 days and are utilized to provide the offender with resources for redirecting their behavior. A 90-day in-residence treatment program for offenders in need of substance abuse treatment has also opened.

“Offenders who are residing at the MRC must return to the center each night between 4-8 p.m. dependent on which program they are enrolled in and their employment status,” Wilder wrote. “If they fail to return at their designated time, an attempt is made to contact them and determine if there is a legitimate reason for their being late, such as having to work late. When an offender poses a high risk to the community and either cannot be contacted or does not have a legitimate reason for being late reporting back to the center, a warrant is immediately issued for him.”

One of the greatest points of community concern about the reentry center is that sex offenders may be housed there. Any sex offender housed there will be wearing a monitoring device and is prohibited from entering any “exclusion zone”; these zones include Adams Traditional Academy, Norterra Canyon School, Sandra Day O’Connor High School, Beuf Community Center and surrounding sports complex area, Desert Sage Elementary School, and Wet ‘n’ Wild Waterpark.

“All offenders staying at the MRC who have committed a sex offense are required to wear an electronic monitoring unit at all times,” Wilder said. “An alert notification is sent to the Community Corrections Officer if an offender wearing a monitoring unit goes into these excluded zones. An officer will immediately contact the offender and order them to leave the area.”

The Maricopa Reentry Center will be located near the Adobe Mountain School, which is overseen by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. The reentry center will be in a separate facility, and there will be no contact between the facilities’ occupants.

“Great care has been taken to create a physical separation (double-layered fencing), as well as a sight and sound barrier between the two facilities. It is not possible for people in the two facilities to interact or communicate in any way,” Wilder said.

In a letter to residents, Dr. James Veitenheimer, DVUSD Superintendent, addressed concerns about the facility, saying children’s safety is a DVUSD priority. He noted that the ADC information stated that the facility would provide critical services for center residents, and that center residents would be working during the day and returning to the center at night. Veitenheimer reiterated that sex offenders at the center would wear monitoring units and would not be allowed within any exclusion zones. The DVUSD superintendent also noted that DVUSD has implemented new safety measures district-wide.

“As you may know, schools throughout DVUSD received security upgrades this summer,” Dr. Veitenheimer wrote. “DVUSD continues to strengthen partnerships with our local police. School and district staff continuously work to implement safety procedures and increase stronger school infrastructures. DVUSD deeply values our partnerships with our families and community, and we appreciate your ongoing support for all DVUSD safety efforts.”

Getting former inmates assimilated back into society as productive, useful people is critical to breaking the cycle of recidivism, and the ADC says they are committed to making this happen through resources like job services and counseling.

“Properly prepared inmates with links to community services are essential to successful reentry,” said ADC Director Charles Ryan in an April 2016 release regarding National Reentry Week. “These types of efforts not only benefit the offender but they also benefit the citizens of Arizona by reducing recidivism rates.”