For the past decade, Texas' imprisoned criminals have been allowed to work on college degrees and take vocational courses while behind bars.$22 million (net) over ten years isn't much given the scope of the state budget, and the repayment completion rate (33%) is actually higher than I would expect. I wonder how many people attending college in the free world over the last ten years have fully paid off all their student loans?
They're supposed to repay taxpayers once they get out. But of the more than 22,000 felon-students who are out of prison, only 6,630 have repaid the state in full, to the tune of $4.2 million, according to state records.
The remaining 16,088 ex-convicts owe the state $9.5 million, the records show.
Over the 10 years the program has been in effect, the state has spent $26.9 million on higher education for inmates, while getting reimbursed only $4.7 million.
This is a penny wise pound foolish cut. According to a recent report (pdf) on the Windham School District from the LBB, prisoners who receive college-level vocational training are much more likely to be employed upon release than their peers: "In the College Credit Vocational Program study group (including both the Prison & State Jail Group and the Intensive Treatment Programs Group), the vocational completers were 1.6 times more likely to be employed within one year of release (55.7 percent) than the vocational noncompleters (34.1 percent), and they were 1.4 times more likely to be employed within one year than the non-vocational offenders (39.8 percent)." TDCJ doesn't yet track recidivism data for Windham students, but the employment gains described for those attending college-level vocational classes are impressive. They also receive higher wages after they're out than other inmates and have better employment retention rates.
Those who completed college vocational programs (83-85% of those who enroll) have, by far, the highest employment rates among ex-inmates one year out. If cuts to vocational programming in prison reduces employment rates and increases recidivism, even by a few points, the amount spent on these programs will look like a pittance compared to increased incarceration costs. Already, the state faces a 10-12,000 bed shortfall by 2013 if suggested budget cuts are enacted, and any increased recidivism would boost those numbers even higher.
Consider: In 2011, according to LBB, there are 2,418 offenders enrolled in college vocational classes at a cost of about $2.2 million per year. Those offenders are 40% more likely to be employed a year after incarceration than those who received no vocational training; 55.7% of them will be employed one year out compared to 39.8% for those without vocational training. Since unemployment is a major risk factor for reoffending, it stands to reason that reductions in programming that contributes to ex-inmate employment gains will increase incarceration costs down the line.
Meanwhile, $2.2 million per year is hardly a drop in the budget bucket when you consider Governor Perry has demanded TDCJ cut $786 million from its biennial budget. These type of nickel and dime proposals not only don't get close to the level of cuts needed, they set the agency up to fail in the long run by increasing recidivism and future incarceration costs.
This is happening because legislators so far can't seem to muster the political courage to take the obvious, big steps needed to reduce overall spending at TDCJ: Closing prisons, staff reductions, reducing the number of people we incarcerate, and ramping up much-less expensive community supervision, treatment and diversion programs. Instead, public debates have focused, for the most part, on suggested cuts that are trivial, harmful, or both. We're getting pretty deep into session for nobody to be talking about the big stuff yet.
RELATED: Vocational ed boosts ex-offender employment: The counterargument to cuts at Windham School District