Arizona's “Getting Ready” program for prison inmates is getting nationwide attention as states face skyrocketing incarceration and release rates, says the Christian Science Monitor. Before Getting Ready, prisoners had no autonomy, says Dora Schriro, state corrections director. They were told when to eat, when to sleep, and not helped to develop positive pastimes. They were ill-prepared to reenter society. Getting Ready upends those expectations, she says. Within one week of entry, inmates receive a needs assessment and individualized corrections plan. They're expected to participate in work or education, self-development, and restorative-justice activities seven days a week. Benefits are tied to accomplishing goals.
Started in 2004 with significant input from correctional officers, community members, and prisoners, Getting Ready creates a “parallel universe” in prison, reflecting as much of the outside world's challenges and opportunities as possible. Criminal justice consultant Gerry Gaes visited four Arizona prison complexes as part of a Harvard Kennedy School innovations awards program. Getting Ready is a finalist. What's innovative, he says, is the intensity with which the graduated system of incentives is implemented. “I've never seen it done to the point it's done there,” he says, citing the opportunity for families to bring in home-cooked meals. “It could introduce contraband. They take a risk in doing that, but the inmates clearly enjoy it.” In 2004, Schriro faced budget cuts and a prison population up 17 percent (it’s now 38,000). Getting Ready was implemented without new funds; staff received additional training and rearranged their schedules for expanded services and hours.