Giving prisoners a second chance at Pima


Inmates can spend years inside county jails. When they are released into the world with their freedom returned, they often have little to no job experience or the necessary education. This is often compounded by the fact returning home can be a battle of its own.

After all, spending time inside a jail does not look good on a resume, and rejoining society and reiterating oneself on the culture can take time. Many, without support, are forced to go back into the life of crime in order to survive. For many, this way of life is all they know.

The MacArthur Foundation was started by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur to donate money to progress U.S. society, to help alleviate the social challenges that exist for those less fortunate.

One of the plans Pima County has to use the MacArthur Grant, is to allow released inmates to attend one class at Pima Community College.

The MacArthur Foundation gave The Pima County Safety Justice Challenge a $1.8M grant to help Pima County’s jail population. Individuals will be given awards of $500 to pay for their classes at Pima with a total amount of $8,500 allowed to be used.

As Terrance Cheung, the director of reform initiatives for the Pima County administration, put it,  this is “re-entry.” This is an “education pathway” that will allow these inmates to re-enter society and gain practical skills in the workforce.

“There won’t be a restriction on what classes recipients will be able to take, as this is simply giving individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system a pathway to success through education,” Zach Stout, Community Engagement Specialist and former Pima student, said in an email. “However, we will have a course that will be recommended — Econ 150 An Economics Perspective – taught by Dr. Cramer. In this course, students will be able to engage in higher education by learning introductory economics, in addition to equipping them with the tools necessary to both understand and discuss different perspectives regarding complicated issues.”

It’s difficult for these inmates to get back on their feets when they spend time in jail without income.

“These inmates are not going to have the money when they get out of jail regardless, so this is one of the few opportunities they have to get an education,” said Pima student Summer Darden.

Pima student Thyron Troy agreed.

“It would be a great way for them to re-enter society,’ Troy said. ‘This gives them a good first step.”

These inmates are coming out of jail, not prison. The difference between the two is that jails are operated by the counties, while prisons are run by the federal government. Jails have shorter term stays, while prison stays vary.

The mission is to accomplish H.E.A.T. … Habilitation, Empowerment, Accountability and Therapy.

As we release these people back into the world, we must ask ourselves what we are doing to help these people rejoin society as easily as possible. For them to play a positive role in society, we must help them gain the necessary experience needed as they restart their lives.

For many, their class at Pima is the first step for them as they figure out what role in society they want to have.