Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Senate pushing biggest cuts to TDCJ vocational ed

A recurring theme in the budget battle at the 82nd Texas Legislature is that the proposed Senate budget - which includes tapping the state's "Rainy Day Fund" - is generally more generous than its parsimonious House counterpart, though it still represents a radical cut from the last biennium. On the question of in-prison vocational funding at TDCJ's Windham School District, though, that dynamic is reversed, reports KENS-5 out of San Antonio: "the Texas House is eying plans to cut around 12 percent of Windham’s budget; Senate cuts total near 37 percent."

Whichever chamber prevails, in the scheme of things this will be the second major cut to vocational ed at TDCJ in a decade. During the last major budget crunch, WISD also took a hit: "In 2003, Windham School District faced similar funding issues. The superintendent said the district reduced staff by 35 percent and the remaining employees took pay cuts."

Bottom line, the question becomes whether extra incarceration costs from increased recidivism outweigh the expense of in-prison programming: "Windham says graduates of their programs are 11 percent less likely to end up behind bars again," the TV station reports. It's impossible to tell without more data how much increased recidivism among this cohort might cost in expanded incarceration costs, but one thing's for sure: It's not zero. And whatever the sum required, it's not being incorporated into TDCJ's budget. Instead, legislators appear to be pretending they can cut reentry and anti-recidivism programming without any effect on future incarceration rates. Grits suspects they've got another think coming.

MORE (5/4): From the Wall Street Journal, which reports on a new study which:
argues "federal and state statutes should be revised to support the development and expansion of Internet-based delivery" of education. The report also recommends "federal and state statutes should be amended to make specific categories of incarcerated persons eligible for financial aid."

Inmate education in America plummeted after President Bill Clinton's crime bill of 1994 rendered federal and state prisoners ineligible for Pell Grants, a form of federal financial aid for college.

Since then, the educational opportunities for state inmates have varied dramatically from state to state. According to the study, 13 states have made it a priority: Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and New York.

"Keeping someone in prison costs about the same per year as sending them to Harvard," said Max Kenner, founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, a privately funded nonprofit that brings Bard College classes to prisoners in five facilities in New York. Published research shows that prisoners who obtain post-secondary degrees are much less likely than others to return to crime upon release, Mr. Kenner said.

A policy statement from the American Correctional Association, a trade group for correctional professionals, says that "public and private agencies should develop, expand, adequately fund and improve delivery systems for academic, occupational and other educational programs for charged and adjudicated juvenile and adult offenders."
Though Texas is cited as one of 13 states providing prisoners access to post-secondary education, that funding has been slated for the chopping block in proposed budgets. Most "college" courses for Texas inmates are vocational ed classes provided by community colleges.


Prison Doc said...

I'm not sure how high-quality the trade training is anyway, but it would be a "crime" to cut down or out on the GED and high school programs.

Unfortunately the recently discussed "criminal background check" problems constitute more of a barrier, I'm afraid.

Interested Reader said...

Not sure if this is recent (I think it is), but there is a link up on the TFSC website for the final report in the Willingham investigation


Soronel Haetir said...


Except that most likely any such increased recidivism will be in a different year, perhaps one where the budget isn't so tight. You have to think of these things like a legislator, not a rational person.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, recidivism is calculated three years out from release and Texas has biennial sessions. The recidivism increase would at least begin in the upcoming budget cycle.

Also, because Texas is balancing the budget by postponing outgoing payments, accelerating tax payments, and pushing its obligations into the future, quite a few legislators are predicting the 2013 shortfall may be worse than this one.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, I agree with you about the background checks being a more significant barrier, but there's no one silver bullet. Both issues contribute to the problem and build on one another.

sunray's wench said...

It's not just about recidivism and re-entry though. If the education classes are cut, then what is TDCJ going to do with the inmates who would normally have attended classes? There are not enough unpaid jobs for the inmates to do in most units, even if they all worked just 2-hour shifts (and can you imagin the logistics of having to move inmates around every 2 hours?!), so keeping a portion of inmates in education each day is actually a safety and security measure as well as an education provision.

Don said...

Good point, SR

A Texas PO said...

I saw that report on KENS5 and thought that the bureaucracy of Windham wouldn't be so large if there weren't so many units to cover. So with my non-legislative logic, I have determined that reducing the number of prison units will also in turn reduce the number of WSD administrators, thus reducing the costs of WSD to the taxpayer. But I sometimes forget that this logic can't fit through the front doors of the Capitol.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, MOST prisoners on the inside attend vocational training (1) to get out of working like a 19th century doing by hand what tractors do in any other third-world country while being forced to sing slave songs in cadence with threat of disciplinary cases for these failures, or (2) so they can get moved off the the death camp units and/or closer to their loved ones. Unlike in other states' prisons, TDCJ rarely utilizes the trades they learned while they are confined. Thus, when they are released years later, the trade learned is either obsolete, or they have forgotten it by then.

MOST parolees legitimately try to get jobs--any job--when we get out. The barrier that we face are discriminatory practices of employers against ALL felons. Unlike in some other states, in Texas, employers may ask if a person has EVER been convicted of an offense. After trying to legitimately get jobs for weeks or months, many parolees simply revert to their old criminal behaviors, selling drugs and such in order to survive. Water it down however you want, but these are just the facts!!!

Lastly, even though the Lege is cutting Windham, vocational trades will still be taught at community colleges within all Texas prisons, and the state will "loan" offenders the money to take one course up to two years prior to their release, and another one if they are within two years of release (if I remember correctly, that is the policy). For those who are serious about getting an education, the opportunities will still be there, but what good is the education if the barriers on the outside still exist.

Audrey said...

Scott, How does one go about getting a copy of the TDCJ budget or for that matter, Operating results, I'd like to read it. I have several questions, but until I see the numbers and how things are accounted for - its difficult to speak on Windham cuts. For instance, at Hobby there is a "Print Shop" that is big and operates at a profit. No labor cost of course but there is cost of machines, ink, paper, electricity, etc. They are able to make "highly competitive" bids on jobs and have commercial customers throughout Texas and in other states. How is the profit accounted for? I know there are several other units, making items (such as furniture) that are sold/used inside and sold to customers outside the prison. How is all of that accounted for? TDCJ is like a giant coop and I have heard some talk that TDCJ is in fact a break-even entity, with all the free labor. How can we see the accounting of all this? How are the contract prisons able to operate at a profit and TDCJ is not? I suppose my question is, are they just playing number games with this Windham thing or is the prison system really losing that much money? Are they netting the sources from these profit centers with all the prison costs? Are the taxpayers being asked to fund real cash flow deficits or non-cash items like depreciation? Do the Feds help with the education costs like they do in the public school system? If so, how is that accounted for and are there matching requirements? Maybe these are all questions that have been answered long ago to everybodies satisfaction. If so, please just direct me to those sources. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I would agree I think it is the background check that hurts the person during the job search activity upon release. Over the years I have seen only two forms of rehabilitation well three if you count the phone calls. They are the three thing prisons officials do their best to either take away or discourage Education and visitation. No other state as I know limit phone calls. What I mean of you have the money call away. I asked this question before and I thought the Federal Government Youthful Offender program covered a lot of these costs. At visitation the people working the weekends make it so miserable you really do not want to go and everyone now knows where the contraband comes from and I now highly doubt it's the visitors. The educational programs are and has been the only real form of rehabilitation and is the last thing that needs to go. I would bet my life the most waste would be found at the very top with the salaries of a few croonies. I am very interested also on how the free slave labor really ads up and where all this money goes.

Anonymous said...

Good questions Audry......I too have seen beautiful leather work...has anyone ever attempted to market these items or develop a "Prison Store" through catalogue or online.....prisoners learn a trade, returns support the program and in all fairness, a portion should go back to the prisoner in an account that he will have when he gets out.

Anonymous said...

About Windham…

I am a long time advocate for the continuum of services pre and post release. I’ve advocated for prison drug and alcohol treatment programs and for the therapeutic community model. I’ve lobbied for more resources for probation and less for prison beds. I support any program that reduces recidivism. I am the kind of person who should be an ardent supporter of the Windham School District. Except for one thing.

Windham doesn’t work.

Currently, the state spends in excess of $150 million on the program. Take some time to review their report on its effectiveness. Actually, Windham’s self-generated report is incomprehensible. Several bright legislative staffers have tried to decipher it and can’t. The bottom line is that Windham officials cannot make a correlation between the $150 million spent and any impact on recidivism rates.

Windham employs 1477 people. How many of those are teachers – no one knows for sure. TDCJ views Windham as a behavior modification tool. I suspect that TDCJ isn’t really interested in the educational benefits of Windham. Anyway you look at it… it’s a lot to invest in a program that can’t show results.

Criticisms of Windham are not new. I worked at the Capitol in the 80s and we looked at it then because we thought it was ineffective. But no one could come up with a better way.

I feel strongly that GED or ESL courses and vocational programs need to exist – it’s the delivery method that needs reexamination. And the adult ed program needs to be attached to a strong reentry / job placement program (now that Project RIO is gone – alas another poor performing effort.)

Colleagues have made me aware of what the Federal Bureau of Prisons is doing, FBOP is using virtual schools and achieving a great deal of success for pennies on the dollar. They use an onsite secure server / Intranet platform (no inmate internet access). Why not try it here? The military is going virtual in its training. U of Phoenix is making a fortune doing it.

A virtual component needs a chance in the prison system – what exists now is sad for the inmates, taxpayers and policymakers. And in this political environment, someone, somewhere is going to make this cogent argument: How can the state justify spending $150 million on prison education when we are cutting $7 billion of public ed.

Anonymous said...

First I'd want to say that the Senator should get some facts before speaking. WSD only has three weeks off in the summer, not the whole summer, they also work thirty more days than regular teachers. Also, I know a principal that is assigned to three units, have an average of 12 employees and is my understanding that she also oversees the Lee College teachers on one unit. I have talked to some teachers and they say they wish they did make $51,000 a year.
Also, I have a question, how long does the people in the legislation work a year and how much do they get paid for. Let's look at those cuts to help the budget.
Second, maybe virtual education is possible, BUT who's going to teach it, officers?

Anonymous said...

I would have to believe now because of so much misinformation no one will be happy until there are no educational opportunities at all. Sad being that is the only form of rehabilitation. It is also especially sad the public has been led to believe how wonderful it is to be in prison today. No one seems to be happy until the prisons look like a POW Camp and believe me it is getting there already. Sad because I was always told when you pay your debt to society and was release from prison you get a fresh start. That must be in a place called fantasy land.