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A second chance for former prisoners

Posted at 10:22 PM, Feb 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-13 00:22:59-05

A new program at the Maricopa Reentry Center is giving former prisoners a second chance. It's an intensive treatment program, aimed at helping ex-prisoners that are dealing with addiction problems -- based off of a program here in Pima County. The program also is aimed at reducing prison populations across the state, by trying to get people to not re-offend.

Derek Barnes walked through the gate onto the grounds of the Maricopa Reentry Center -- a converted juvenile detention facility -- three weeks ago. He's no stranger to the Arizona Department of Corrections. At 36 years old, he's spent 18 years behind bars for stealing cars.

"I do not want to go back to prison man," he said. "You get sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I'm at that point man, I really am."

Barnes has struggled with drug addiction since he was 15 years old, and continued to do so in between his multiple prison sentences.

"It started with Weed, that was a gateway drug. Then I tried pills, then I did Crack, but it all lead to Meth."

Every time he's been released from custody, he's had a very difficult time getting used to life outside of the prison walls. Just recently, he succumbed to temptation and used drugs -- violating the terms of his parole. He was given two options: go back to prison, or enroll in this program at the Maricopa Reentry Center. Determined to never go back to prison, Barnes chose the latter.

"I'm believing in this program and this recipe, and I'm listening," he said. "No other rehab that I've been, and I've been in a lot of rehabs, a lot man. You know, 19 years in the prison system, I've tried everything. But you know what? I've learned more in this program in three weeks than I learned in any of those rehabs."

This program goes for 90 days, and every day is packed with therapy. The facility looks a bit like a prison, but it doesn't operate like one. The doors don't lock, the offenders are allowed to roam the grounds, they get prison luxuries -- alarm clocks, hygiene items, personal items, food -- to name a few. They can also earn day passes to see family and friends, if they remain on good behavior.

"It's way different from prison," Barnes said. "We get visits, we get phone calls, we get all of that. It's nothing like prison despite the barbed wire."

Currently, 32 offenders live at the facility. However, it can house 100 people, and officials say it's under-utilized. The state wants to expand the program by adding more counselors, that way they can increase the amount of offenders that can enroll in the program. By teaching ex-inmates the basic skills needed to succeed in life outside of prison, they hope to reduce the rate of recidivism.

Robert Barron is another offender enrolled in the program.

"Coping skills, people skills, they teach us how to do things, how to think properly," Barron said. "Because a lot of us that are in the prison system, we have that criminal thinking. And when they let you out of prison and you come out here into the real world, that's all we think. So when you do that, you just keep on doing what you know best: crime."

Consistent abuse of alcohol and Meth caused him to spend 22 years behind bars. With the help of state officials, he hopes to be employed once he completes his 90 days in the treatment program.

"I'll have the tools that I've learned here," he said. "How to cope better, out in that life, in the real life -- not the prison life. And maybe become a better, productive citizen. That's what I hope to accomplish out of this program."

For example:

"I'll have a sponsor I can call and phone and talk to that person about the situation that I'm going through," he said. "That I feel like I may want to use. they can talk me down, they can tell me I'll be over there and I'll help you out; don't go do that because it's only going to lead back to the place that you got out of."

The program it's modeled after in Pima County is seen as a success. The Department of Corrections says 38% of offenders didn't re-offend. So far, they say his program in Maricopa County is working well in it's early stages.

Barnes certainly believes it.

He's ready to start over. The things he's looking forward to?

"Probably family, and having a future in life man, and being a regular citizen and not being institutionalized anymore," he said. "Being a part of society, and living life, you know, on life's terms."