If any of you know me, you know I’m a huge advocate for prison reform. While prisoners should definitely be punished for their wrongdoings, they should also be rehabilitated so they do not offend again. Texas fails miserably at this. We have always failed miserably at this. And now, we’re upping the ante.
The only real form of education provided in Texas prisons comes in the form of Windham School District, which operates only within correctional facilities and offers GEDs and vocational training to inmates. It also does a pretty good job of keeping them out of prison once they are released. The program stems recidivism by almost 50 percent in participants: 75 percent for inmates who did not participate will return to jail versus a much lower 29 percent for those who did.
But this program may be fading fast. At least if you listen to legislators like Florence Shapiro who said in a hearing on March 17 that Windham is the “biggest waste of money I’ve ever seen.” (I wrote an opinion about this last week in the paper, but I’m going to complain about it again here for good measure.)
In my opinion, Shapiro is one of the most shortsighted legislators in office right now. If she doesn’t understand that stripping away the measly $65 million a year that Texas gives Windham will actually cost us more in the long run, she’s worse than I thought.
Texas spends, on average, about $18,031 per prisoner every year. Divided out, the $65 million would only pay for about 3,600 prisoners for a year. Given that Texas has about 156,000 prisoners, that’s beans. But how many prisoners did Windham keep from coming back to jail? In a study released in 2000, the program had prevented the recidivism of 21,806 inmates. And that was only over a span of two years! Give me a break, Shapiro.
But just for fun, lets do the math. Let’s say none of those 21,806 inmates had Windham’s education in their pocket. On average, 79 percent of them would be right back in jail. Thats 17,227 people. Now lets multiply that number by how much it costs to keep someone in jail for a year to see how much they would cost the state sitting in jail for another year.
What’s the number? $315,271,327.
So now, lets subtract the $65,000,000 total budget of Windham from that number to see how much people like Shapiro would actually be wasting the state.
Drum roll please.
It comes to a total of $250,271,327. Thats almost four times the amount we give Windham every year.
What’s the worst thing about all of this? Mrs. Shapiro happens to be the Senate Education Committee Chair. I’m not kidding. She should probably understand the value of education in preventing crime more than anyone. She clearly doesn’t.
And given that Windham has 77,000 students, the fact that it operates on a $65 million budget is pretty outstanding. Dallas ISD had a 2010-2011 budget of $1,250,200,772 and they only have about twice the students of Windham at 158,126. This calculates out to $844 per student at the Windham School District and about $7,900 per student in DISD. Maybe the state should consider that when choosing who and what to cut.
So what’s the difference here? Why is Shapiro proposing cutting all of Windham’s funding while just trimming the budget of other school districts? I said it in my editorial, and I’ll say it again here: She, like many employers who do not see past the “felon” check on former prisoners’ applications, downgrades them as less than human by assuming they are unworthy of education and the subsequent salvation it could bring.
Hey Shapiro. I know they did wrong, but prisoners are people too. Let’s let them figure out there is something more profitable than crime. Let’s teach them welding so they can get a job at a metal shop instead of at a chop shop. Let’s let them go for a GED instead of selling drugs to high schoolers. What’s so wrong with that?