Last year, roughly 3,000 former inmates were sent back to prison for using drugs and missing appointments with their community supervision officers, costing Arizona taxpayers nearly $16 million.
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan hopes to drastically reduce those figures by following in the footsteps of Texas and a handful of other states now offering additional structure and educational programming at community correction centers - something akin to a halfway house, with additional services.
Ryan moved 144 women from the minimum-security prison on West Starr Pass Boulevard to the prison in Perryville, and turned the Starr Pass Boulevard facility into the Southern Region Community Corrections Center.
Starting today, former inmates who get in trouble for violating the terms of of their release - as opposed to committing new crimes - will find themselves at the center instead of back in prison.
Former inmates who continue to toe the line will report to their community supervision officers at the facility, too, instead of various locations throughout Tucson.
"We are striving to try and reduce the cost of the prison system while keeping public safety first and foremost in our minds," Ryan said.
The 150-bed center will provide services to three types of former inmates, said Paul O'Connell, community corrections operations director.
It will provide inpatient residential substance abuse treatment to former inmates who are struggling despite going through outpatient treatment, and it will provide housing and other services to former inmates who are temporarily homeless, O'Connell said.
Lastly, if former inmates fail a drug test or commit another sort of technical violation, they will find themselves behind bars at night but remain free during the day to work or take part in the many programs available at the center.
The center will offer classes dealing with such things as addiction, family reunification, life skills, résumé writing, searching for jobs and budgeting. They will also be required to take classes that will teach them how to identify and avoid irrational or maladaptive thoughts.
The department hasn't participated in community corrections or had halfway houses since the mid-1980s, Ryan said. It is now able to get back into that business because the prison population has stabilized in recent years.
Studies have shown that "swift, certain and fair intervention" helps reduce recidivism, Ryan said.
The vast majority of those who will be sent to the center are nonviolent offenders with substance-abuse issues.
Turning the women's prison into a corrections center had several benefits, Ryan said.
It allows the department to augment the staff at the Wilmot prison, Ryan said, while saving $98,000 annually because it no longer has to rent space for its community-supervision officers.
The total cost to convert the women's prison into the center was roughly $90,000, Ryan said.
The treatment providers already had contracts with the state, so there's no additional cost there, Ryan said.
Ryan hopes to open a similar center in Maricopa County at some point.
Officials have asked for input from treatment providers in the Phoenix area in advance of soliciting proposals for a new facility, Ryan said. Unfortunately, Maricopa County, which accounts for 65 percent of all prison inmates, can't simply convert space as was done in Tucson, so it will be a more- costly measure, he said.
The department is seeking $2.9 million from the Legislature to establish the program in Maricopa County.
"We're excited about this opportunity," Ryan said.
It costs $60 a day to house an inmate, while someone on community supervision costs anywhere from $7.35 to $18 a day, depending on the level of services and monitoring required.
"If we're successful at just keeping half of these people out of prison, we'll have saved $8 million," Ryan said. "That's money we can put toward other programming or toward expanding this program."
By the numbers
Arizona Department of Corrections fiscal year 2012:
Arizona's prison population
The number of people released from prison
The number of new admissions
The percentage of inmates convicted in Pima County
The number of inmates sent to prison for violating terms of their release.
The percentage of all prison admissions due to the violation of release conditions
The number of former inmates whose release was revoked due to the commission of new crimes
The number of former inmates now on community supervision
Source: Arizona Department of Corrections
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or email@example.com