New program by local farm helps keep people from going back to prison

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, four out of 10 inmates will end up back in the prison system. However, a program recently started by Hickman's Family Farms is hoping to lower that number, by providing recently released inmates with a job, as well as a place to live.

"For somebody coming out with nothing, this is a really good start," said Hickman's employee Jason Finnegan, as he showed off his new home. It's much different than where he lived for the past five-and-a-half years.

A prison cell.

Finnegan was locked up, after getting into trouble because of drugs. He's now clean and holds a job. Finnegan is one of about 30 individuals who are recently out of prison, and living and working at Hickman's Family Farm.

Over the summer, Hickman's built homes for individuals who are making the transition from prison to the real world.

"This housing is contingent on employment, so you have to be ready to be somebody who's ready to change, be ready to be a productive member of society," said Aaron Cheatham, Reentry and Transition Manager at Hickman's Family Farm.

Cheatham is a former parole officer and corrections officer.

"I feel honored to be in this position to be able to offer that opportunity for people to actually be able to effectively change their lives, and be given the foundation that's actually needed to make a change," said Cheatham, who handpicks the inmates. Only non-violent offenders are allowed to participate.

"When they come in here, they have a stable place to live, they have a stable employment," said Cheatham. "They also have to do the things that we take for granted. They have to go grocery shopping, they have to cook, they have to clean and they have to get up and go to work everyday, and they learn those things that we've been doing normally, and they're getting used to it."

The employees pay 20% of their salary for rent, and they can stay there for as long as they want. After a year, however, they can leave if they want, and receive 50% of that rent money back.

The program is fairly new, but Cheatham says it's already off to a great start.

"Here, we're knocking out a lot of those roadblocks," said Cheatham. "You don't have to worry about housing, you don't have to worry about employment, you don't have to worry about how you're going to get to your job."

As for Finnegan, he's grateful for the opportunity, and he's looking forward to the future.

"I want to get back into enjoying life," said Finnegan.

Officials with Hickman's says they do have plans to expand the program in the future. Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Corrections says programs like these really do make a big difference in their goal of reducing recidivism by 25% in 10 years.