Adults locked in Texas prisons work for free, helping in the kitchen and doing maintenance around the lockup.State Sen. John Whitmire reportedly expressed similar sentiments, but filled with expletives. My own views, though, are better represented by
But teenagers in most Texas Youth Commission lockups are paid for doing many of the same chores, and Texas taxpayers are picking up the tab.
This year alone, several hundred youth lawbreakers are expected to be paid more than $167,000, according to state records.
Offenders are using the tax-free earnings to pay child support, buy snacks and other items from the canteen, and pay court costs and fines, said top commission officials, who defend the program as being like an internship in vocational training.
Legislative leaders, who say they just learned of the program, are pledging to cut it from the budget and shut it down.
"It's gone — one way or the other," House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson , said. "How can anyone justify using taxpayer money to pay offenders for anything, whether we've got a tight budget or not?"
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, [who] said he wants to know more before deciding the future of the program.Thank you, sir! If there's one critical, overarching thing delinquent youth must learn to function as adults in the real world, it's to exchange their own labor for money at a job instead of stealing, dealing, or hustling, and this program teaches that lesson in the same way as parents who require their children to perform chores (or used to) in exchange for a minimal allowance. It's not like we're talking about high wages or a line item in the budget that even amounts to a rounding error. And since most of the income goes to pay court costs, victim restitution, and child support, there are tangible benefits to those outside the TYC gates from letting this program continue. Again from Ward:
"These kids are sitting there, waiting to get back into society, and putting them to work is good," Ogden said. "If there's money available to pay them a little something, I'm not going to assume that's a bad idea before I know the details."
Last year, the budget for the program was $174,599. This year, the budget is $167,642.
Generally, officials said that only older offenders are included in the program, because of child-labor laws that prevent younger youths from working. Participants must have a good behavior record.
The program is authorized not by a state law but rather by a one-paragraph "rider" buried in the fine print of the state budget that allows "students residing in any Youth Commission facility to be assigned necessary duties in the operations of the facility and be paid on a limited basis" — from up to $50,000 allocated for each lockup and $10,000 for each halfway house.
[TYC Executive Director Cherie] Townsend said that though some youths buy canteen items, others use their earnings to pay child support and make restitution to victims.
"We have one youth who's paying $200 a month in child support through this program," she said.I don't see how cutting this tiny program make sense: It's too small to help with the budget shortfall and it looks to me like the benefits outweigh the costs, though Mssrs Madden and Whitmire disagree. OTOH, if a crime victim stops receiving restitution, a mother stops receiving child-support payments, more court fees go unpaid at counties, etc., I'm not sure that helps anybody. Indeed, despite efforts in recent years to kill inmate job programs, to me it makes sense to find more ways for prisoners to earn while inside, for many reasons: As incentives for good behavior while in prison, to promote a work ethic needed for success upon reentry, and so inmates can contribute to society while incarcerated, though child support, victim restitution, etc., instead of merely draining from it. (In Canada, they pay some inmates below-market wages and then charge them rent on their prison cell if they earn above a certain amount.) So I not only think this is a good idea for older youth, I'd like to see it expanded for adults with good discipline records in TDCJ, and I'm as puzzled why that's controversial as Chairman Madden is that anyone would support the program!