Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune is featuring 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here.
Day 23: The state's prison education system, known as the Windham School District, eliminates or reduces classes for offenders after the Legislature cuts its budget by $35.6 million.
It's hard to argue for protecting the right of incarcerated criminals to an education when the state is also reducing public school spending for its children by nearly $4 billion. But Ana Yanez-Correa, the executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, says the average inmate in Texas has a fifth grade education, and that giving inmates the ability to learn is one of the best ways to reduce their chances of re-offending and to maintain public safety for all citizens. For that reason, she says she is concerned about the Legislature's decision to reduce funding for the Windham School District, Texas' statewide prison education system, by about 27 percent (or $17.8 million) per year over the next biennium.
Watch the Tribune's interview with Yanez-Correa below. Each year, she estimates, 71,000 inmates are released from the state's correctional system.
WSD funding is appropriated by the Texas Education Agency. The district is responding to the cuts by cutting all salaries and eliminating 271 full-time positions, including administrators, support staff and 157 teachers (each served 107 students per year). In an email to the Tribune, WSD spokeswoman Bambi Kiser said it also plans to reduce its expenditures on "consumable supplies, travel and other operating budgets" by 50 percent. Library services will also be downsized. Overall, WSD predicts 16,750 fewer offenders will be able to take classes in the 2011-12 school year.
The district reported that instructional staff reductions were made by eliminating educational programs at six substance abuse treatment facilities (Glossbrenner, Halbert, Havins, Johnston, Leblanc and Sayle), the Duncan unit and the soon-to-be-closed Central Unit in Sugar Land (another casualty of state budget cuts).
Windham also plans to downsize programs at 19 units where the average age of prisoners is over 40, because studies have shown that older inmates are less likely to re-offend and focusing on younger offenders leads to lower recidivism rates. Those affected units are: Scott, Eastham, Dalhart, Michael, Boyd, Powledge, Lynaugh, Ramsey, Neal, Stringfellow, Stevenson, Jordan, Goree, Jester III, Pack, Ellis, Terrell, Byrd and Huntsville.
"Despite all changes, WSD remains committed to providing the best possible programming with allocated funding," Kiser said.
Since the Texas Legislature created Windham School District in 1969, some have complained about the program's low graduation levels. Last year, Kiser said more than 77,000 inmates participated in the Windham School District, although some may have been double-counted if they signed up for more than one course.
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