(From The Arizona Republic, Aug 07, 2010)
About 1,000 men and women who have completed their prison sentences will be released in south Phoenix by the end of this year.
Many of them are looking for a fresh start in the area near South Mountain that they consider home. But several of their soon-to-be neighbors are not welcoming them, saying their community has become a dumping ground for former offenders they believe are likely to commit new crimes.
The former prisoners aren’t released all at once, but leave whenever they have fulfilled their sentences for all sorts of crimes: drunken driving, forgery, child abuse, molestation, theft, assault, arson.
“As a resident, I really resent it,” Georgia Johnson, a retiree and south Phoenix homeowner, told a panel of federal and state officials who alerted residents about the prisoners who are released over several months.
South Phoenix neighborhoods in ZIP codes 85041 and 85042 “are such an armpit of the city,” she said. “Why are you putting them right back there? You’re just asking them to come back and re-offend.”
Johnson was among about 100 residents and recently released prisoners at the forum organized by representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Phoenix Police Department, Arizona Department of Corrections, Maricopa County agencies and south Phoenix organizations.
U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said the recent forum was the first of a series of public meetings meant to educate residents about the support and services, such as housing and employment, needed for former inmates to start anew.
But it will take more than a few meetings to convince skeptical residents that the former inmates can build a peaceful life in south Phoenix when their sentence is complete.
Already, hundreds of Arizona inmates who complete their sentences are released every year in south Phoenix, state and county records show.
The 85041 ZIP stretches from 27th Avenue to Central Avenue, and from Broadway Road to South Mountain. Next door, the 85042 ZIP extends from Central to 48th Street, and from Southern Avenue to South Mountain. Police and prosecutors say those areas are Phoenix’s core of criminal activity and are home to its poorest residents.
Nationwide, an average of 50 to 67 percent of former inmates are behind bars again within three years of release, federal statistics show.
The recidivism rate is even higher in the 85041 area, where hundreds of inmates choose to return after release. On average, 81 percent of them return to prison, county reports show. This means more than 800 of the 1,000 prisoners going to south Phoenix are projected to be back in prison by 2013.
“We don’t release inmates to a particular area or ZIP code because we choose to,” said Rhonda Pruitt, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections prisoner re-entry program.
South Phoenix is their destination because that’s where they decide to go, she said. Many grew up there and have relatives and friends in the area who have a place for them to stay.
A small number end up completing further requirements of their sentences by going to halfway houses.
Up to 40 percent of the estimated 20,0000 inmates released from Arizona prisons each year have no place to stay, according to a report by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They go to shelters or live on the streets.
Burke said authorities cannot restrict where an ex-prisoner lives. “Once they’ve served their time, they’re no longer required to go where we tell them to go,” he said.
He added that even if officials could decide where former inmates may live, it displaces them to some other neighborhood.
“Then, it would be some other family getting up and saying, ‘You directed them to my neighborhood,’ ” he said.
Burke said agencies need to focus on improving inmates’ access to services to become responsible residents.
The high recidivism rate in south Phoenix has prompted the state and county to launch programs over the years to bring substance-abuse treatment, mental-health treatment and employment programs closer to the inmates.
Three separate tiers of re-entry programs exist in south Phoenix. Maricopa County has the Legacy/85041 Project, the Arizona Department of Corrections runs its own statewide Legacy Project, and the federal government has the Weed and Seed Re-entry Initiative.
For nearly two years, Burke has been meeting with officials from the state and county programs, Phoenix police and leaders of community organizations that support prisoner reintegration. They created a road map to work together so they can offer more support to former inmates.
Agency leaders hope their efforts lead ex-prisoners to make better choices and to a better life.
Prisoner re-entry may prompt south Phoenix residents to say “not in my backyard,” Burke said. “But we’re trying to fix your backyard.”
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/08/07/20100807inmates-released-in-phoenix.html#ixzz23km6NU1Y