MARCH 21, 2011
While states across the nation suffer through their most dire financial crisis some still dedicate tens of millions of dollars annually to educate prison inmates and lawmakers are finally questioning the costly programs that liberals claim improve behavior and reduce recidivism.In Texas, where a budget shortfall has slashed funding for public education, an entire school district with 1,300 employees and a $128 million budget is dedicated to schooling prison inmates. Each year the Windham School District provides about half of the state’s 150,000 incarcerated felons with free high school equivalency certificates, literacy, life skills and vocational training classes.Many Texans don’t even know about the special school district which for decades has been touted as the state’s largest with 77,000 students, all of them jailed convicts. One Republican state senator calls it a big waste of money as Texas cuts public education funding and furloughs thousands of school employees. Another, a Democrat, points out that the recidivism rates for graduates of some Windhamprograms were not better than for convicts who didn’t get their free prison education.Other states spend exorbitant amounts of tax dollars to educate inmates as well. Last year California’s governor actually proposed a constitutional amendment banning the state from spending more money on prison education than higher education. The idea was proposed because in the last 30 years spending for prison education more than tripled in California while money for public colleges declined drastically.In Pennsylvania the governor’s 2011 proposed budget includes a hefty increase for inmate education programs, including $750,000 for a new project that helps prisoners who are about to be released into the community. In New Jersey inmates under the age of 20 automatically get high school courses and, of course, taxpayers pick up the hefty tab.Nationwide, correctional education programs at state and federal prisons have increased in the past decade, offering convicts everything from basic math, reading and English to college courses and other vocational classes. For decades prisoners qualified for federal Pell grants that paid for their college education, but that practice ended in 1994 under a provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
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