One thousand minimum-security beds are opening this week at prisons across Arizona, easing crowding and marking a shift in how inmates are prepared for freedom, reports the Arizona Republic. The Level 1 beds, the first of their kind in Arizona, are for the lowest-custody, non-violent inmates within two years of release. They are a sign the state is shifting the focus from just housing inmates to rehabilitating them. Moving these inmates from higher-custody Level 2 units, where they have been housed for decades, will save the state’s cash-strapped prison system nearly $10,000 a day.
Prison officials say the new arrangement should reduce recidivism and increase public safety by better preparing inmates to transition back to the community. The housing units dovetail with Corrections Director Dora Schriro’s efforts to create a “parallel universe” inside prison, where inmates engage full-time in activities similar to those in the outside world. The units step down the custody level for inmates, forcing them to take control of their lives and responsibility for their decisions. “We are really truly putting the corrections back in Corrections,” Schriro said. Arizona releases more than 15,700 inmates a year and has suffered from high recidivism rates as the state focused on control of prisoners, not on rehabilitation. More than 42 percent of inmates return to prison within three years.