Movement Launches to Keep Ex-Prisoners 'Out for Life'

Prison Fellowship launched a movement this week in one of the most dangerous states in the country to keep former inmates out of prison for life.

Out4Life was launched in Arizona which has the sixth highest incarceration rate among the 50 states and where one in 33 adults is under correctional control.

"Arizona is ranked as the 9th most dangerous state," said William Anderson, Prison Fellowship's Arizona director. "We must make changing this ranking a top priority."

The re-entry movement is a collaboration between Prison Fellowship – the world's largest outreach to prisoners and their families – and government agencies, businesses, community-based organizations, and other faith-based organizations. The goal of Out4Life is to tackle recidivism more effectively and help ex-prisoners successfully reintegrate into society.

Simply put, it's about "working together to give prisoners a second chance," according to Prison Fellowship.

The ministry and state agencies are looking to establish more than a dozen local coalitions in Arizona to help released prisoners find steady jobs, adequate housing, substance-abuse treatment and supportive relationships that keep them on the right track.

"During fiscal year 2009, the Arizona Department of Corrections released more than 20,000 inmates back into the community," said Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan. "In too many cases, the offender returned to the community with little or no support and resources.

"Ensuring successful re-entry is integral to the reduction of relapse, revocation and recidivism. In these challenging economic times, it is imperative that we join together in efforts to successfully transition inmates back into the community as productive, pro-social citizens."

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 95 percent of offenders will eventually be released back into the neighborhoods nationwide. But two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years for a new crime or for violating the terms of their release.

The high recidivism rate is both a public safety and financial crisis.

A March 2010 report by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council found that 83.8 percent of inmates in the southwestern state have one or more prior adult felony convictions or juvenile felony adjudications and 56 percent have two or more prior felonies on their record.

The prison population in Arizona grew by 52 percent between 1995 and 2005, to 33,471. As of December, 31, 2009, there were 40,544 convicted felons behind bars.

And as a result of unrelenting growth in the inmate population, the budget of the Arizona Department of Corrections has reached a record $1 billion (FY 2010), approximately 12 percent of a total state budget 0f $8.4 billion, according to the March report.

Out4Life was developed by Prison Fellowship in 2007 in an effort to find a better way to tackle recidivism nationwide. This year, the ministry plans to also launch the movement in Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Texas and Virginia.

The movement is being introduced through conferences where attendees are educated on the needs and services that ex-prisoners require in order to become a contributing member of the community, and are encouraged to join a coalition in their area. The Arizona conference was held April 26-28.

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