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Ex-director upgraded Corrections

Citizen Staff Writer
‘I’ve been very impressed with Dora Schriro and I’ll miss her.’ DAVID SANDERS, Pima County Adult Probation chief officer



The timing of the departure of Arizona’s prisons chief for a key post in U.S. Department of Homeland Security isn’t lost on Dora Schriro’s supporters or herself.

Five years ago on Super Bowl Sunday – while Schriro was waiting for confirmation as director of the Arizona Department of Corrections – two inmates at the Arizona State Prison-Lewis ended a 15-day siege by releasing two officer hostages and surrendering.

On Monday, one day after the 2009 Super Bowl, Schriro will begin her post as senior adviser to former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, recently confirmed as director of Homeland Security.

“In the five years since (the Lewis prison siege), I think the evidence of what she’s managed to accomplish has shown up as a result of the award DOC just got,” said Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, referring to the national Innovations in American Government Award.

Since Schriro’s reforms have been in effect, inmate violence and drug use are down and more inmates are enrolled in education classes and have earned their GEDs (high school equivalency certificates). And early results of recidivism studies show that fewer released prisoners are committing crimes and returning to prison.

Schriro was hired after previous director Terry Stewart retired. She brought a national reputation for reducing recidivism through an innovative program she started in Missouri’s prison system called “parallel universe,” which teaches inmates how to live productive lives after release.

LaWall, who was part of the interview committee that selected Schriro as a finalist, said Schriro’s parallel universe program was an innovation whose time had come in Arizona and is now a national model.

According to DOC, the parallel universe “Getting Ready” program has cut inmate assaults by 46 percent, inmate assaults on guards by 41 percent and inmate grievances by 29 percent. Lawsuits over conditions of confinement also are down 63 percent and there are 9 percent fewer inmates testing positive for drugs.

Inmates who participate in Getting Ready programs are more than a third less likely to return to prison by committing new crimes than inmates who don’t participate, according to DOC.

Arizona taxpayers also have saved $1.6 million by having fewer inmates returning to prison, DOC statistics show.

Parallel universe’s goal is to empower both Corrections employees and inmates to conduct themselves responsibly.

“Very few leaders are able to point to those accomplishments,” LaWall said. “It was strategic, it was focused and it was implemented.”

As a result of Schriro’s programs and other measures, Arizonans are safer, LaWall said.

“I do know that the crime rate in Pima County has dropped 21 percent,” LaWall noted.

Pima County Adult Probation Chief Officer David Sanders noted that Schriro helmed DOC during rough times that included inmate overcrowding and officer understaffing.

“In my opinion, she handled it all quite well,” Sanders said.

“Her greatest area of achievement was the parallel universe she created,” Sanders said.

“If inmates don’t get up for breakfast, they don’t get breakfast. If they don’t perform well on their job, they could lose their job.

“It better prepares inmates for release,” Sanders said.

“I’ve been very impressed with Dora Schriro and I’ll miss her.”

Schriro saw it all as a part of the job she was hired to do.

“The overarching charge by then Gov. Napolitano was to put the corrections back into the Department of Corrections,” Schriro said Thursday.

The Lewis riot taught Schriro that she needed to make sure prison officers knew what was expected of them and that prison officials made sure the officers were properly trained to carry out orders, not focus on who made what mistake.

“It was far away from the ‘gotcha’ stuff that’s common in this field,” Schriro said.

Her reforms helped erase chronic staff shortages.

“If all we had done was give them raises, nothing would have changed,” Schriro said.

Even before the Lewis riot, Schriro had begun to visit every correctional facility to understand what worked – and, perhaps more important, what didn’t work – in Arizona’s prisons.

That included meeting as many officers as she could and mixing in with inmates herself, something she was comfortable doing and continued to do throughout her tenure.

Schriro also made key contacts with other criminal justice and law-enforcement officials in Arizona during that time, relationships she credits with helping end the Lewis siege without bloodshed.

“The management of the hostage situation was a template overall to our approach to problem-solving,” Schriro said.

Schriro has spent her last week as prisons chief meeting with officials, including new Gov. Jan Brewer, in hopes that the improvements she started will continue.

“It’s up to those who remain or come on to make those decisions,” Schriro said.

“But clearly and unequivocally, I think we’ve demonstrated that we’ve created something that’s extremely efficient and that there are many, many good reasons to continue the good work.”

For national security reasons, Schriro couldn’t go into detail about her new duties at Homeland Security, which begin Monday in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“I’ll be reporting to the deputy secretary (of Homeland Security), so my activities go past ICE,” Schriro said.

Eventually, Schriro will be able to focus on immigration problems that affect Arizona, she said.


Citizen Staff Report


Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has named a former director of the Arizona Department of Corrections as interim director.

Director Dora Schriro announced her resignation this week and will go to work Monday at Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C., under former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who is secretary of Homeland Security.

Charles L. Ryan was director of the Arizona department from late 2002 to July 2004, when Schriro took over.

Brewer also named Charles Flanagan interim deputy of the department.

Flanagan has been director of the Correctional Education Division of Cochise Community College.

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