State hopes to expand program to give parole violators a second chance

Posted at 7:08 PM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 21:08:58-05

The state is hoping to expand a program that would give parole violators a second chance.

The Maricopa County Re-Entry center opened it's doors at a former Department of Corrections Juvenile facility last summer.

Right now 32 offenders are calling the 100-bed facility home. Department of Corrections staff said the facility was under-utilized. There were several people on a wait list to get into the program. It was an alternative to prison for those who had violated parole.

The goal is to hire six additional drug treatment counselors and increase the population. In addition to addiction counseling, the facility also provided a "time out" for parole violators who just needed a "wake up call," said Karen Hellman, the Division Director of Inmate Programs and Re-entry.

"It's nothing like prison," said Derek Barns, an offender who was enrolled in the 90-day intensive treatment program.

Barns had spent more than half of his adult life in prison. He quickly learned that life on the streets was tougher than life behind bars. Constantly being judged, unable to find a job, and get away from the stigma from being a former inmate, he found himself turning back to the drug of his choice: methamphetamine.

"It's pretty intense stuff. I call it the devil's drug," Barnes said.

Barnes ended up violating his parole when a urine sample tested "dirty." He admitted to doing drugs and jumped at the chance of a treatment program.

"They're not just throwing me away like a dog and locking me up and throwing away the key.  It's a second chance," Barnes said.

He showed ABC15 his journal and noted that he had been sober for 20 days.

"I've tried everything else man, other rehab programs. This is new to me. I've learned a lot and I'm really believing in it," Barnes said.

DOC staff said they hoped programs like this one would help reduce the rate of recidivism or re-offending. 

"I'm not trying to be rude, but I don't want to see any of these people back here," Hellman said.

Barnes is hopeful that he will stay away from drugs after the intense counseling he was getting.

"I don't think I've ever committed a crime off drugs. Addiction is a big part of committing crimes for me. Every time I got high or needed to get more, it was the cause of all my thefts," Barnes said.

Recovering alcoholic Robert Barron also felt he had a new lease on life after being enrolled in the program. He has several DUI's on record and violated parole after he tested a "dirty" sample as well.

"I just got comfortable and didn't do what I was supposed to do. I thought I could get away with it, pretty much," Barron said.

He felt stronger after going through the classes and counseling sessions and felt he was ready for a second chance.

"I want to spend the rest of my life free. I think I have a better chance at being a productive citizen," Barron said.

As the program looked to expand, residents living in the neighboring Phoenix North community expressed concerns. Many of them were caught off guard when the former juvenile facility re-opened as a re-entry center for adult offenders.

"This is just not the right location, we have no good transit system here, this is not the right place for this type of facility," said Julie Read, the co-leader of Block Watch Phoenix North, a group that represented 7,000 homes in the area.

Read said they had been working closely with the Department of Corrections, the legislature, and Governor's office to improve communications and were spearheading an effort to pass legislation to provide better notification to the community in case of similar expansions, or sex offenders moving into the community.

Read said after protests and discussions, the Department of Corrections finally agreed to remove homeless offenders and sex offenders from the program, but residents also worried about other offenders who were free to come and go as they pleased.

"At 45-days these offenders are at liberty status. This means they're trying to re-engage into the community, trying to find jobs, trying to find housing, trying to get back on their own two feet," Read said.

Staff at the Department of Corrections were working with the neighborhood group to address their concerns.

Barnes said he hoped never to be back in the area of the facility again after he completed his program.

"I'm ready; 100 percent. I deserve to have a life. Before, I never thought that way. I thought I didn't deserve anything," Barnes said.

He added that he hoped to get his commercial driver's license and start a new career.

DOC staff said the re-entry program also brought in state officials to help inmates find jobs, as steady employment was a big key to reducing the rate of recidivism.