AZ Common Ground

Posted on August 10, 2016 • Category: Job Creation

By Zackary Moran-Norris

In 2009, Frantz Beasley was released from a 14-year prison sentence, intent on helping ex-offenders find jobs and reintegrate into society despite their criminal pasts. 

Ten months after his release, Beasley founded AZ Common Ground, a community-based organization that combats Maricopa County’s recidivism rate by providing services to men, women and youth following incarceration.

Beasley says that the conceptual framework for the Phoenix-based nonprofit was created when he was transforming his own life while still behind bars. 

“After several radical mental changes in my own life, I ultimately came to the conclusion that I had to channel my passion, and AZ Common Ground came out of that,” said Beasley.

Nearly 58 percent of the offenders released from Arizona prisons between January 1985 and June 2013 were returned to custody within 20 years of release, according to a 2014 study by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council. 

Thirty-nine percent of offenders were returned to custody within three years of their release and 10 percent were recommitted for a new violent felony, according to the study. 

In response to these statistics, AZ Common Ground began providing workforce development training, job placement assistance, cognitive behavioral therapy and other resources to help prior offenders find meaningful employment opportunities and stay out of the prison system.

“We target medium and high risk offenders who have a higher potential of going back into the system,” said Beasley. 

The training programs are designed to develop character, which is the most crucial aspect of being successful in society, said Beasley. 

“Nothing is more important than character - it’s the quintessential piece to our organization,” he said. “These are the people who employers will meet, and who will be leading their families.” 

The organization also began offering life skills courses in 2011. Over 530 ex-offenders have graduated from the program and only 18 have reoffended and returned to prison, according to Beasley. 

One of the graduates is Shontell Lege, who became involved with the organization after serving a five-year sentence in an Arizona prison. 

“I found other people that I could relate to and I honestly felt like I found a family over there,” Lege said. “I finally felt like I didn’t have a big ‘F’ on my forehead for ‘felon’.”

Lege, 33, earned her associates degree from Rio Salado College while in prison to help prepare her for the societal challenges of having a criminal record upon release. 

Despite the challenges, she was offered an entry-level position at Rio Salado College while she was participating in the life skills courses at AZ Common Ground. 

She was eventually promoted at Rio Salado College before she decided to accept a full-time position at AZ Common Ground, where she still works today.

“We want people to know that just because you have a felony record, it’s not the end of your life, and so many of our graduates have proved that.” 

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