Using Training to Reduce RecidivismThe United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of its population behind bars of any country in the world. (See, for example, this graphic [Flash] from the April 22 edition of the New York Times.)
Figuring out ways of reducing recidivism is an obvious way of bringing the prison population down (assuming no offsetting wave of new offenders).
In Arizona, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has adopted an approach to improving the prison culture and cutting recidivism that has earned them a place among the fifteen finalists for the 2008 Innovations in American Government Awards, a program run by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
The DOC concept is straightforward. As described in an April 29 article in the Tuscon Citizen, the idea is to teach inmates skills that will equip them to take jobs on the outside that pay something significantly above the minimum wage.
Source: Arizona Department of Corrections
The skills taught include culinary arts, auto repair, computer repair, telemarketing, and wildland firefighting. As of July 1, each inmate is provided with a copy of his/her case plan, covering individually assessed needs for education, training, and treatment (e.g., for substance abuse).
The program began in 2004 and, according to the Tuscon Citizen, the DOC believes it deserves credit for "cutting inmate assaults by 37 percent, staff assaults by 51 percent, sexual assaults by 70 percent and suicides by 33 percent."
Interviews with inmates participating in the DOC-sponsored education and training suggest that they recognize how the program can help them handle their lives better in the future than they have in the past. For instance, Michelle Millikan is quoted in the Tuscon Citizen article: "Instead of being stifled," she says, "we're being given the opportunity to grow. They want to see you be successful. I don't think I'll be back here."