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New teaching methods being implemented in Arizona prisons

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Organizations taking measures to decrease state’s recidivism rates

by Jessica Alvarado Gamez

special to the View

New teaching methods will soon be implemented in prisons across Arizona, including Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye and Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville in Goodyear, to better the lives of inmates.

Arizona State University held its sixth annual prison education conference Feb. 10. Guest speakers from Guadalupe Teen Court and the Arizona Transformative Law and Social Justice Center, or ATLaS, shared their outlooks on the current correctional system.

Former presiding judge and founder of Guadalupe Teen Court Lilia Alvarez said she believes in investing in curiosity to help understand why individuals who commit minor offenses behave the way they do.

The Guadalupe Teen Court is a program run mainly by youth volunteers who are trained by municipal court officials.

It allows minors who have committed offenses such as shoplifting, vandalism and assault to be heard by their peers in a courtroom setting.

Alvarez said she believes the program is a good way to prevent the minors from committing crimes again.

She takes a youth-centered approach, asking her volunteers “why” questions, which forces them to think creatively to gain a better understanding of why teens commit offenses, Alvarez said.

Good things happen when courageous people come together,” she said. “We need to reframe on how we think of these issues.”

Kirstin Eidenbach and Jonathon Trethewey, founders of ATLaS, said Arizona’s correctional system is based on punishment and revenge, and claim inmates aren’t treated as human beings.

You are not a human being, you’re a number,” Eidenbach said. “You are part of the system. It is the most overwhelming experience because everything is wrong.”

ATLaS wants to embrace more of a humanity and normality method, she said.

Eidenbach said she believes Scandinavian prisons are more successful because they allow inmates to be called by their given names and let them converse with the guards.

Being treated like a human being causes inmates to gain back normality, she said.

According to ATLaS, incarceration causes trauma, which prevents inmates from succeeding in the real world.

Trethewey, who has spent time in prison and is now a reform community activist, said it’s important that society understands inmates are people, too.

They are trying to build a better life for themselves and should be given a shot,” Trethewey said.

He said inmates aren’t receiving the skills they need to keep a job once they are released, and are set up to embrace a revolving door that leads back to prison.

According to ATLaS, Arizona has the sixth-largest prison population in the country and has high recidivism rates.

ATLaS prioritizes humanity, not perfection, according to its mission statement.

Revenge does not give you closure,” Eidenbach said. “Restorative justice does.”

ATLaS is currently only teaching people re-entering society from the federal system and those who have already been released.

The organization will soon implement its self-discovery and life mapping classes across Arizona state prisons.

We are working through the approval process to start teaching within the state prisons sometime in the future,” Eidenbach said.

ATLaS’ I.D. classes are focused on four main principles for a successful re-entry to the outside world:

Institutional Detox, which helps inmates develop an awareness of the effects of institutionalization.

Instinctual Defiance, which teaches inmates to develop individual strategies to replace harmful instincts they have learned in prison.

Identifying Direction, which allows them to learn the value of having direction and how to map out their goals.

Impactful Dreaming, which continues mapping out their goals in order to successfully bring them to life.

The organization is also planning to start up a nonprofit program called “Holobiont Farms” by late summer 2017.

The program will allow inmates to work on a farm by growing vegetables and harvesting eggs, allowing them to maintain a sense of humanity.

The program will also provide a variety of classes to help them obtain the skills they need in order to successfully reintegrate into society.

We want to do something different,” Trethewey said. “We can and we will.”

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