Sunday, August 28, 2011

Four year theology degree to be offered at TDCJ while vocational ed slashed to the bone

Given that the state slashed funding for vocational and traditional education in Texas prisons this year, it seems counter-intuitive that a new religious seminary will open Monday in the Darrington Unit giving four-year religious degrees (from my preacher-brother's alma mater at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, no less), but that's what's happening according to this item in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Texas' newest seminary will launch Monday -- inside a Texas prison.

It starts with 40 inmates who will be trained at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Darrington Unit in Rosharon, about 300 miles southeast of Fort Worth.

Fort Worth's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will play a big role in the seminary, as will the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Heart of Texas Foundation, as co-sponsors of the nondenominational program.

After inmates finish the 125-credit-hour program over four years, they receive bachelor's degrees in biblical studies and are sent to other Texas prisons, where they "minister to their fellow offenders," according to a release.

"The opportunity to provide education and growth for those in a prison unit .. is the opportunity to enable these inmates to discover a significant new way that through study will change life, perspective and hope for hundreds," said Paige Patterson, president of the Fort Worth seminary.
A Statesman story on the initiative by Mike Ward declared:
prison officials and supporters say that by making the program voluntary and without a denominational focus — much like another faith-based rehabilitation program operated for prisoners for more than a decade and now highly acclaimed at another nearby prison — any such issues have been avoided.

In fact, Texas offers religious programs at all of its 111 state prisons and has faith-based programs and initiatives involving more than 2,700 convicts at 24 of them.
Ward points out an interesting distinction between the seminary idea from other rehabilitation programs: "Unlike most current prison rehabilitation programs, the initiative is not designed for convicts who are about to be released or paroled. Instead, its participants are serving long sentences, most for violent crimes, and most will be behind bars for many additional years — if not the rest of their lives." Ward adds that "The cost to taxpayers: zero. Private grants and donations will pay all expenses of the seminary, which is patterned after a highly acclaimed minister-training program in Louisiana, officials said."

On one hand I can understand the impetus. Since the invention of the penitentiary religious reformers have believed prisons should actively seek to promote spiritual transformation. On the other, I'm not sure there's evidence religious education benefits prisoners more than the educational initiatives recently gutted at the Windham School District in TDCJ, and clearly there's nobody out there beating the bushes for "private grants and donations" to keep those programs running.

Another thing: Though the stories say the program will be non-denominational, the Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth was the site of a major fight between fundamentalist Baptist factions and less dogmatic religious scholars including Russel Dilday, the moderate president who was ousted by fundamentalists in 1994 for not toeing the hardest possible theological line. He even wrote a book (really a collection of columns) about the incident, titled "Glimpses of a seminary under assault." Can we really expect the trustees of an institution still ruled by the same faction that ousted Dilday to hew to a non-denominational, non-fundamentalist doctrine? For how long?

Relatedly, I wonder if the same deference would be granted when some Muslim sheikhs from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan show up and want to start a madrasah in TDCJ at no "cost to the taxpayer." If that happened, I'm guessing, the enthusiasm level among state officials wouldn't be nearly so high.


Anonymous said...

I am totally baffled the white fundamental evangelicals are not on the security threat group list. Oh, that’s right there in charge down in Texas like the cartels are in Mexico. What a group of terrorist these white fundamental evangelicals are in the United States. Destroying people’s lives who don’t believe like them in this world and destroying people’s lives who believe like they do in the next world. We should let Mexico have Texas back and maybe these people and the drug cartels can kill each other.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If your concern is that fundamentalist evangelicals fail to display sufficient tolerance of opposing views, 5:54, you're sure not providing them with much of a role model for improved behavior.

Anonymous said...

good response, grits.


David E said...

I am personally acquainted with this program and have written an encouragement to the one offender I know personally. This program does not seek to make preachers but servants to their fellow inmates. They will receive 4 years of intensive training in the foundations of serving others and practical help in reaching their goals. In the years after graduation, their service will result in fewer inmate suicides, better adjustment to incarceration by troubled young inmates, and fewer disciplinary problems. These are not religious problems but human problems. I wish those forty men and their instructors the very best in their journey of preparation and for the life-giving service in which each of them will engage.

Anonymous said...

I doubt there is even a fiscal note with this, Scott, or if there its, it is minimal. Prisoners in Texas who take academic college courses are "loaned" the money for only one class each semester, which they will be required to pay back as a condition of their parole release. The Texas Public Education Grant will pay for the second course each semester. If they want to take a third or fourth course, they have to have the money on their books to be deducted before the semesters begin.

For vocational college programs, the state will loan the money for one3 vocational course and the offender has to repay that as a condition of their parole.

The funding that was cut was for Windham vocational courses, which are different from academic or vocational college courses. Windham is the TDCJ's school district. Those taking courses in Windham (e.g., GED courses and vocational training) do not have to repay the state when they are released.

julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sunray's wench said...

Hubby was offered a place on this programme. He turned it down for 2 reasons: 1 - because he would have to move to Darrington which is a notoriously bad place to be, and 2 - he would prefer to study something practical he can use when he gets home, like a degree in business studies.

This is not rehab in any way, shape or form. It is manipulation.

DeathBreath said...

For those of you who don't know, the American prison system began with the premise that Godly introspection would change a person. You can read about it in the history of American incarceration.

But I have a much different opinion based on over twenty years of dealing with Texas finest, behind bars.

One day, I met a truly remarkable offender. He was a much different breed of offender than most. Some would describe him as a "confidence man." Knowing the nature of the antisocial personality, I never attempted to do psychotherapy. Why? Well, you would have to read Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. to know why I never bothered.

But, I did let this man talk when he wanted. Some folks inside need to ventilate from time to time. But, over the years, I learned that this man possessed an intimate knowledge of human behavior. Truthfully, his knowledge rivaled some mental health professionals I knew. I would call this man a "convict", not an offender. Many people who have served time in prison know of this line of distinction.

He talked about various time-dependent criminal scams that escaped the minds of most. His criminal endeavors were detailed & full of curve balls. But, his scams were contingent on one thing, human greed.

So, one day, I asked (indirect suggestion) why he never went into the ministry where psychopaths flourish under the guise of righteousness. You see, he could keep his antisocial personality & siphon tons of money off unsuspecting congregants. It happens all of the time.

Oh, and if you are countering my line of thinking with accounts of how your pastor walks on water, then you deserve your fate.

This prosperity gospel malady has changed the way many so-called Christians worship. Here is how it works.

The pastor manipulates scripture by telling congregants that a closer walk with Christ will bring about worldly compensation. Yeah, Christ loved that sort of thing. Guess who benefits from fruitful congregants? Some pastor are so blessed with their jets, jewelry, luxury automobiles and food. Bountiful blessings. Oink, oink, oink.

So, I don't know what became of this offender. Perhaps, he is in a church near you. I surely hope so. Criminal thinking remains unaffected by donning robes of righteousness.

I cannot find a more fitting profession for a psychopath. Praise the Lord!

Criminal Justice Reforms LLC said...

Grits, one thing you stated in the article stuck out for me,that no one is coming forward to fill the gap in the lost vocation/eduction programs stripped in the 2012-13 budget. Education of any sort is a key to reducing recitivism, a measure of the success of any prison program. The savings to the TDCJ budget were minimal when you look at the total spent, yet the impact will be great and felt over time. The taxpayers should expect a high rate of return on their investment in TDCJ but with a great reduction in the number of programs that create opportunities for change I'm afraid they are getting very little. I hope that TDCJ will allow volunteer teachers to come into their units and bring these programs back, or make other reforms that will allow the programs to be funded again in the near future.

The Homeless Cowboy said...


Kevin Stouwie said...

With all the free world scholarships, grants, federally guaranteed loans, etc. perhaps it's high time we begin to look into taking prisoner education more seriously.

It's true that the average IQ of TDCJ offenders is in the low 90's. It's also true that so many of those incarcerated do not want to better themselves through more education. However, even if 10% of the 156,000 TDCJ Offenders were given REAL quality college coursework, that would translate into 15,000+ who DO want to better themselves through developing their minds.

This represents a tremendous opportunity to make progress where nobody believes it's worth the effort. If it can be done with private dollars for a theology degree, there certainly ought to be a way to get the same opportunity for those who would love the opportunity to enter the more marketable degree programs.

sunray's wench said...

Kevin - good thoughts, but have you any idea how difficult it is to find any University or College at the moment that will accommodate inmates on any of their courses, by correspondence? Most now require the use of a computer and the internet, which obviously precludes any inmate outside Federal prisons. And even if you can find one, how is an inmate supposed to pay for tuition? We can't even open a bank account in my husband's name any more without him being inside the bank to sign the paperwork.

Religious programmes are all well and good as a diversion, but TDCJ and Texas as a whole needs to seriously rethink what it wants from an education service, and then get on and put their money where their wants are. Or maybe they are already doing just that.

Sheldon tyc#47333 said...

I was right there with you 5:54 right up to the point where you wanted to give Texas back to Mexico and pit the 2 mentioned groups against one another. In America we have the right to freedom of religion just as much as we have the right to persecute those who don’t believe like we do. For example FLDS and Warren Jessop.

I also agree with you DeathBreath, being some type of protestant preacher is a great career for psychopaths, especially in the south. However the phrase is “Praise the lord and leave your tithes and offerings in the basket’.

This seems like a good program and I’m sure will benefit many people. At the same time the state’s ability to provide education to rehabilitate offenders where they can be successful on the outside and not go back to prison is an interesting situation. Mutually exclusive, but interesting none the less. I would venture to say the required reading for basic class in college level English, History, and Government are most likely on TDCJs book ban list. Understanding the TDCJ job corps model is essential to understanding why the state is unable to do right by these inmates regarding rehabilitation and recidivism. If TDCJ absolutely has to parole these inmates, TDCJ wants to make sure they come back. So much money is tied into TDCJs human inventory, the count, its imperative that state agency’s like TDCJ, TYC, and our public school prison pipeline function adequately at providing inventory for TDCJ. Remember Rick Perry is a job provider in Texas.

It’s imperative on the back side of our Texas justice system that these inmates have people on the outside to be their support system. It’s better for those few who have the aptitude to get out to attend free world college. There they can have meaningful discussions about the works of Mark Twain without the communist censorship by some hillbilly or affirmative action goon, or worry about repercussions that some racist inmate the scholar is forced to house with will beat’em up. Our potential TDCJ scholars will just have to satisfy their intellectual curiosity with such American classics like People magazine and the likes for now.

I think the nice folks at the seminary will see just how difficult it is dealing with the likes of TDCJ’s culture and abandon this futile quest in the next several years. It would be entertaining to see the response of those ass clowns if some folks wanted to open a Yeshiva or a Madrasah. There again I would defer back to 5:54’s first sentence regarding white evangelicals being placed on the STG list.

If Randolph Hearst were alive today the internet would be prohibited and the ignorant mass’ would think computers are of the Devil just like those a little over a half a century ago who prohibited hemp. The worship is the money and if a religion doctrine can help no matter how foolish, then bring on the counters.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits,

This is one of those catch-22
damned if you do, damned if you don't thingamajigs. While having the potential to be very positive, it will lend itself out as an unwilling participant of a traveling messaging service.

*Mr. Stowie offers up a more practical suggestion - to implement more marketable degree programs.

An ABA approved Paralegal / Legal Assistant studies program would draw way more than 40 inmates into the classrooms. Those with the prerequisites would take their exam in two years and be employable through job placement programs upon release. (Done entirely on closed circuit computers & donated books, supplies from the schools).

Those remaining could file applications for a limited affiliation with various innocence projects and work on their own cases from the cells.

As it is, detention & release void of rehabilitation that includes a practical and marketable education results in detention & release. Good luck to the initial 40 in their endeavors.

Despite what some want to believe it's still all about the Taxpayer. Thanks.

Audrey said...

Wow Kevin, you said "It's true that the average IQ of TDCJ offenders is in the low 90's. It's also true that so many of those incarcerated do not want to better themselves through more education."

Where do these "facts" come from? I was incarcerated 3 years and found this not to be true at all. Most the women around me were reading several books a week, watching the news and reading the newspaper and could carry on a very intelligent conversation. Most everyone I ever met wanted to better themselves.

A good education system needs to be put in place, volunteer if necessary. In fact some of the best, highest quality educational classes were conducted by volunteers.

As for the Jesus haters, gosh have you ever read the Bible? Do you know of the wisdom that exists within those covers? There will always be opportunists, who turn it in to something which wasn't intended but the majority will only benefit from such studies.

BarkGrowlBite said...

I've worked with both the California and Texas prison systems and I have yet to find a single follow-up study on the success/recidivism rate of inmates released from those prisons or prisons from other states who received two-year or four-year college degrees. The same applies to vocational programs.

I see two major problems. The first is the reluctance of whit e-collar employers to hire ex-cons. While that isn't fair I can understand their fears of getting ripped off.

An even bigger problem is that prisons do not prepare inmates for the change between the structured prison society and the free world society. That's sort of what Half-Way Houses are supposed to do, but most inmates are not placed in those transitional residences once they are released.

On the inside, inmates are told when to shit, shower and shave; when to get up and when to hunker down; when to speak and when to shut up; etc. In the free world that ain't the way things are done. And a lot of ex-cons just cant handle that freedom, especially if they've been locked up for years and have become institutionalized.

The question is: How can prisons prepare inmates to handle all those freedoms they've been deprived of while they've been locked up in the joint? Some will say that's a function of parole. Please don't make me laugh.

When all is said and done, the bottom line is that prisons serve to punish lawbreakers, not to rehabilitate them.

Reality tells us that rehabilitation cannot really occur until the inmates leave prison. Then it's up to the ex-con himself. Hopefully he'll have the assistance of the parole authorities, family members, and employers willing to give them a chance. Without that help, his chances to remain out of prison are slim to none.

David E said...

To get back to the subject of this blog, the seminary program at Darrington is not intended as a rehabilitation program. It does not prepare the enrollees for life after prison. It is intended that graduates go to units across the state to help (Read "minister") their fellow inmates in areas such as personal crisis, family crisis, adjustment to prison life, and generally to help other inmates address and work through personal issues. This includes religious and spiritual issues, but is not limited to them. Graduates will have credibility with other inmates that no staff person can hope to have (including chaplains, God bless them). To ensure that these objectives are covered and inmates do not use the program for their personal rehabilitation, an inmate selected for the program must have had a MINIMUM of ten years to go BEFORE his first parole interview. This qualification alone eliminated hundreds of inmates immediately, and provides for at least six years of service after completing the four-year degree. This program is completely unrelated to Windham and other college-related programs in TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

What a waste of time. How about helping the victum. They already find God inside.They hide behind the Bible waiting for the next crime.

Ex-Tex said...

As an ex-offender (or ex-con, choose your philosophy) with two advanced degrees, clinical and pastoral training AND a very meaningful life & career, I merely grieve the oafish, reactionary ignorance that voters constantly demonstrate at the goading of elected officials. Education for offenders reduces recidivism. It isn't just 20 years' career experience starting in TDCJ as an inmate speaking here - robust statistical data affirm it. Opposing education for offenders gains votes. Americans (and especially Texans) tend to prefer increasing punishments over reducing crime. I know it is because they are under-informed, or deviously deceived. But then, I'm only the extremely effective interventionist who saves officials' teenagers from terminal drug addiction & career criminality in his quiet, generous practice & ministry. What do I know...