Friday, March 18, 2011

Waste alleged, budget cuts sought at TDCJ's Windham School District

Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro called the budget of the Windham School District, which educates Texas prisoners at 112 prison units across the state, "the biggest waste of money I think I've seen," according to reports from the Austin Statesman and the Houston Chronicle. "With the state facing a massive shortfall, members of a Senate Finance subcommittee said they can no longer justify the $65 million a year in state revenue used by the Windham School District to provide approximately 5,200 high school equivalency certificates and other vocational training programs."

Writes Patricia Kilday Hart, Shapiro "zeroed in an a study by the Legislative Budget Board earlier this year examining the employment status of paroled inmates who had received vocational training. Lawmakers wondered why inmates who received the training did not seem to have much better luck finding jobs than those who did not."

The sources of savings suggested: Outsourcing to community colleges and other regional education programs and shifting to online education, which raises numerous logistical, infrastructure, and security concerns since inmates don't (legally) have internet access. That would probably require an IT investment at prisons the state isn't prepared to make.

It doesn't sound like they're talking about zeroing out Windham or eliminating the services, but scaling it back and looking for alternative means to educate inmates, which may or may not turn out to be any cheaper. Cutting education and  treatment programming is the wrong approach to cutting prison expenditures: If recidivism increases even a percentage point or two, a prison system already projected to be 10-12,000 beds short by 2013 will even further feel the strain.

Now, if the programming doesn't work as well as it should, that's a different matter. The prison system needs anti-recidivism programming and it also needs resources for evaluating how well it works so it can be adjusted and improved over time. I'm all for targeting ineffective programs for cuts and shifting resources to programming that empirically works.

I don't doubt there's waste at Windham, but I can also see why running a statewide school district made up entirely of prisoners would present unique administration challenges. Still, with regular school districts taking a major haircut and TDCJ needing nearly $400 million in annual cuts to meet the Governor's targets, Windham's $65 million per year looks like a juicy, almost irresistible target for budget cutters.

16 comments:

Arguendo | Dixi said...

I see this as proof that no one has any interest in any rehabilitation efforts at all. Just keep the doors open and revolving. Everyone will keep bitching about the costs of incarceration but do absolutely NOTHING to prevent recidivism in any way.

Anonymous said...

It's not all that surprising that offenders with vocational certification are having difficulty finding employment. The legislature has made it impossible for any convicted felon to become licensed,bonded or insured. This eliminates many,many trades and crafts from the potential employment pool. Then add the economy on top of those draconian restrictions and we get to ehere we are today.

Prison Doc said...

8:37 is spot on. Although I've had a lot of concerns about the quality of prison vocational training, the insurmountable barrier is the "felons need not apply" attitude which seems to be getting worse instead of better. This, plus the state's seeming desire to convict, enhance, and lock up everybody is developing an awfully big unemployable underclass out there.

Michael said...

If they are serious about parolees succeeding, the Lege needs to do what states like Massachusetts, Michigan,and Hawaii have done: limit the number of years back that employers can ask regarding criminal history. Many positions would be exempt for obvious reasons (e.g., police, fire, etc...), but if we limited the questioning on the application to ask if the applicant has been convicted of any offense within the last 7 years...

Same thing goes for apartments. Geez, if a person wrote a check for $1000 that he could not cover twenty-five years ago (when such an offense would have been a 3rd degree felony), he is forever prohibited from living in most apartment complexes and working at most companies!!!

Another solution would be to add a legitimate work-release program, where offenders who met an eligibility criteria would be sent to serve the last 6-12 months of their sentence at a half-way house-like facility run through contracts with private or nonprofit stakeholders. That way, they could be under almost direct supervision(with GPS monitors), where they could be required to attend counseling, group meetings, maintain employment, and that assistance would be provided with requirements for paying rent, budgeting money, and developing a savings for the day of their release a year later. Federal funding is available for such a program and private businesses and nonprofits provide services such as these.

Anonymous said...

"With the state facing a massive shortfall, members of a Senate Finance subcommittee said they can no longer justify the $65 million a year in state revenue used by the Windham School District to provide approximately 5,200 high school equivalency certificates and other vocational training programs."

Well, I've got some shocking news for the legislature. Federal law stipulates that incarcerated individuals up to the age of 23 have to have the opportunity to get a HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA. Not "high school equivalency certificates" and not GEDs. But HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS.

So, just what does the lege think they are going to do with the Windham school?

Texannnn said...

I work as a school counselor for Windham. Is there waste? Almost certainly there are things we could do better. What the legislature is forgetting is that we have a unique population here that has not, generally, been successful in the free word eductional environment. Traditional education has failed them for the most part. The average offender is on about a 5th grade level and will be getting out of prison is less than 10 years. That means he or she will be back on the streets and hopefully will have some skills that will enable him or her to be a productive citizen. That's what WISD does-we try to increase the odds of NOT returning to prison. Are we as successful as we'd like to me? No but that is not always due to factors within our control.

Anonymous said...

Education is never a waste. But like so many have stated, if the Legislators do not really release that person, do away with the felony strike three on their records, education will just blow in the breeze and never help anyone. Those inmates who truly work to better themselves, deserve a real chance to get the same jobs of those who don't have to climb over the label "felon". Give those who truly have earned the right to be free and live a good life a chance. Are any of you Legislators listening?

Anonymous said...

I am a Windham Vocational Instructor and It is my opinion that the men and women we serve are trying their best to try and prepare themselves to reenter back into society and not repeat the same mistake that brought them to prison in the first place. If we take away their ability to receive training I will guarantee that the individual will come back. I would urge anyone out there who really cares to reexamine their reasons for wanting to close the education system. The money saved will only be passed on to the public in another form through more crime. There is no way that we can truly track the individual once released unless they are on parole. I personally have had students and employers call me and tell me of the students success as a result of their training. Thanks for your time.

Anonymous said...

As a retired Texas school teacher with 36 years of experience, I can say I am very proud of the 4 years I worked at Windham teaching G.E.D. classes to offenders in the TX. prison system. Just like in the public school systems, there are many areas that could be cut, but helping someone get an education that could make a difference in his life, is NOT the way we need to save money. Everyone deserves an education, even our Texas Senate.

Anonymous said...

I am a CHANGES teacher with WSD; my offenders are just looking for a chance to prove themselves. The legislature does not have a clue about the need for our GED Classes, Vocational Classes, or our Life Skills Classes. They see these as a waste of the tax payer's money. A simple question for these that want to kill WSD and all the programming like it; "have you really thought of the COST of doing away or severly cutting our programming?" My offenders tell me that without such programs on the units, this place would be a ZOO...many of them have finally been successful for the first time in their lives. It is a proven fact that an offender that has taken the opportunity to get some education, is OVER 50% LESS LIKELY TO RECIDIVATE. Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day...teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime...have we forgotten this lesson?? Same goes with education.

Anonymous said...

Senators Shiparo and Whitmire have not even begun to realize the REAL COST of cutting out the education programs that are offered by WSD. First of all, I teach CHANGES II with the district and my job is get these "convicted felons" ready to return to the freeworld. I teach lifeskills such as budgeting, goal setting, anger management, time management, how to get a job and more importantly how to keep a job, and much much more; these are not a WASTE of my tax monies or the tax monies of my fellow Texans, quite the contrary..these as skills that these offenders DO NOT possess. Secondly, WSD's vocational classes are FIRST RATE; these classes are taught by industry professionals, NOT some yahoo off the streets. Each one of these classes has an EOC (end of course exam) that by the way, was formated by INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS. A waste of money; why YES ACCORDING TO SHIPARO AND WHITMIRE. Third, our GED classes are filled with students that are FINALLY BEING SUCCESSFUL for the first time in their lives. These are the same students that have fallen through the cracks in our PUBLIC SCHOOLS. And according to these brilliant senators, because they are "convicted felons'...they do not deserve this chance to do anything positive in their lives. After all it was themselves, who did this to themselves....

So again to these brilliant senators..."What is the REAL COST of cutting their opportunities to become 'law abiding citizen' through getting an education while incarcarated?" Remember, these same "convicted felons" are going to get out someday and they are going to be illiterate to job skills, illiterate to life skills, illiterate to educational skills, and most of all THEY ARE GOING TO BE YOUR NEIGHBORS OR YOUR FAMILY'S NEIGHBORS....have you considered this? Are you prepared to pay this COST with MORE CRIME on YOUR STREETS? We already do not have enough correctional officers in TDCJ and according to some reports, by year 2013 the prisons are going to be short some 10 to 20 thousand beds already...hey why don't we double or triple this number by doing away with the programs offered by WSD? REALLY...DO YOU THINK THIS IS WHAT YOUR CONSTITUENTS HAVE ELECTED YOU TO DO????

One more thing before I go, Shiparo wants to have these "convicted felons" do their GED classes ONLINE....this will allow them OPEN ACCESS TO THE WORLD WIDE WEB. OK, let's look at the capital outlay for just running the wiring, buying the computers that are internet accessable, trying to install the "SAFE GUARDS" to prevent such wondering on the WWW, and let's not forget the salary of these IT SPECIALISTS and the 'watchful eyes' of the proctor to keep everyone on task...can someone say MULTI-MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. But hey, this is going to save money in the short run by FIRING 1,100 to 1,300 PROFESSIONAL TEACHERS and staff. Good idea...right? As my offenders would say, "I'm just saying......" Just something to ponder from one of those "WASTED MONEY TEACHERS".....

mello said...

Maybe if they looked at some offenders,that have been good for several years,who have probally takin these classes,maybe they schould be the ones to go home.Then maybe they can empty some of these over crowed prisons,especially the womens,in gatesville region.

Anonymous said...

If the offenders can not read how are they suppose to operate the computer? Ever thought of that. Maybe if you start a the Top of a Top heavey District. You could save millions. Which most districts are. Then get rid of the royal palaces, put some of those people in the schools, you could save even more millions.

Anonymous said...

I work for the Windham School District and "hope" to retire in a few years. A gret deal of our students are at 2nd and 3rd grade levels when we get them...some lower if you can imagine that. My question is for the public school system. Do you just get tired of these, let me emphasize, CHILDREN, and let them ride the grades just to get them out of your hair??? Do you give individualized attention to special education students, many of which we get in the system? We have men on this unit that cannot read. That, my dear Senators and Representatives is a travesty. So quit ragging on Windham and get down and dirty with the public schools or possibly cut some of your hefty salaries, benefits and whatever the hell else you guys get for representing the citizens in your states and districts.

ED said...

All education is good. Those that qualify should be released conditionly as long as they go to school. Education will keep people uot of TDCJ period.

Butler Pierce said...

Maybe also if some of the prisons would stop firing or harassing their certified teachers, because the Principal does not like the vocational teachers, then the prisoners could be better educated in order to obtain a job. Putting a "good friend in" to replace a certified teacher and a maintenance worker in that knows a "little about electricity" to replace a certified electrician that was harassed until he left, would also help better educate offenders. Need to start at the top and see if those people are certified first, especially in education, in order for others to learn. Windham needs to look into some of these problems in order to better educate others. It is hard enough to get certified teachers in these systems but to let others in charge fire them just because they want to and replace them with friends,not certified is a problem of its own.