Friday, March 25, 2011

College Education in Prison

While it is a powerful tool of rehabilitation, the case can be made that providing it free when state budgets are shrinking and no one else gets it for free, is not a good idea, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

Hopefully, criminal justice/rehabilitative stakeholders in Texas will seek to replace the funds that might be lost with private philanthropy.

An excerpt.

“For the past decade, Texas' imprisoned criminals have been allowed to work on college degrees and take vocational courses while behind bars.

“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.

“Overseen by the prison system's embattled Windham School District, which legislative leaders last week threatened to whack from the budget to save money, the little program is now the target of a move to shut it down, as well.

"We don't provide free college tuition for anyone else like this, so with the budget crisis we're facing, why should we for convicted felons?" said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who said he wants the program eliminated.

"The idea of having anyone paying us back in a program like this is ludicrous. There's no way to collect."

“Despite the criticism, Windham officials say the intent of the program is good: to help convicts advance their knowledge and skills so they will stand a better chance of becoming law-abiding citizens once they leave prison.

"The statistics show more inmates who participate have a lower recidivism rate," said Windham Superintendent Debbie Roberts. "There is an advantage from a program like this.

"We have some inmates who are continuing to send us checks after they get out — not many, but some."

“Under the program, convicts who are within seven years of release, who have a record of good conduct and who meet the entrance requirements for the courses taught by the 17 Texas junior colleges that participate can enroll.”