Here's why some Arizona Department of Corrections inmates are helping build homes

After an extremely busy couple of years for the Phoenix housing market, experts say things are starting to slow down – mainly because of rising mortgage rates – but the demand for newly built homes continues to grow, and construction companies can’t build them fast enough.

While hiring new employees is still proving difficult in the post-pandemic era, a company in Chandler has come up with a solution. While the solution is a little unusual, it's a partnership that they say is a win-win for everyone involved.

Take a look at the walls of your home. The craftsmanship and labor is quite involved, and in some cases, the carpenters that created them may surprise you.

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"To see it all put together and everything, yeah. It's, like, cool," said Geoffrey Sauer, an inmate within the Arizona Department of Corrections.

"Work was booming, and we needed more people, and this was just a great opportunity," said Mark Frankson, Operations Manager with Erickson Framing AZ LLC. "We saw the program from some other facilities and looked at it the best we could, like, 'hey, this is great. This might work out.' You have a few reservations going in, you know it’s inmate labor, but I will tell you what: for the eight years we've been doing it, it’s been nothing but positive."

Anywhere from 14 to 60 inmates leave the confines of their cells and head across town to Erickson Framing in Chandler. They work Monday through Friday to create wooden housing frames. The company helps build them for around 3,500 homes a year in the Greater Phoenix area alone.

"My favorite part is learning the layout of it all," Sauer said. "Reading the blueprints and figuring it all out."

"So, before I even came out here, I had no clue as far as what it was going to look like. So, basically the first time I ever got to build it, I was like, 'wow. This is actually pretty neat.' We don’t really get to see it completed, as you see, but basically, we put it on the trailer, and then they take it and put it together last like a puzzle," said an inmate named Carlos Valverde.

Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI) employs 2,000 offenders daily throughout the state, offering dozens of opportunities, ranging from agriculture to metal fabrication and construction, among others, thus providing not only a service to the community, but trade skills to the offenders.

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Mark Frankson, Operations Manager with Erickson Framing AZ LLC

The partnership with Erickson Framing has been one of their most successful.

"First of all, they enjoy the fact that it's a sense of normalcy. They are able to leave the prison every day, have a real job, and then they obviously return in the evenings, but they are learning real world skills," said Bruce Shiflet, Regional Manager of Arizona Correctional Industries. "What we really value about Erickson is when they are released, they can be released on Friday with their orange clothes, and be back Monday in their Levis working for Erickson if they chose."

Bruce Shiflet, Regional Manager of Arizona Correctional Industries

These minimum-security inmates are screened before they are granted the opportunity to work outside the prison’s walls. They must have a GED or a high school diploma, no history of violence or sexual offenses, and are within five years of being released.  

"I've learned a lot out here," Sauer said.

"Inmates that participate in ACI are probably over 30% less likely to return to prison if they participated in the program," Shiflet said.

"It's basically changed my life by giving me a solid work foundation and allowing me to help out in the community," said Anthony Jamrozik, an inmate.

Anthony Jamrozik

On top of learning new skills, the inmates in this program get paid substantially more than other prison jobs, setting them up for success when they are released.  

"I'm doing eight years, so I will have nothing when I get out, and now, I am going to be leaving with, like, $8,000," Sauer said.

"It's nice. I mean, you actually feel accomplished at the end of the day. Like you did something good," Jamrozik said. "It allows me to feel normal."

Once the inmates are released into the real world, many get hired full time at Erickson Framing. Others move onto opportunities closer to home, but having these skills allows them to skip entry level positions, and head straight into higher paying jobs.