Nearly 20,000 California inmates are enrolled in a new education program mired in staffing shortages, labor disputes, and the logistics of giving one-on-one instruction, says the Los Angeles Times. Started in November to save money, Bridging Education – resembling a series of correspondence courses – has cost the state more than it has saved. Teachers deliver lessons at cell doors and in dormitories. So many teaching jobs are unfilled that some instructors struggle to spend even half an hour a week with each of the 100 or more prisoners to whom they are assigned. Some inmates can go weeks without seeing a teacher.
California has the nation’s highest rate of repeat offenders, a problem that has contributed to prison overcrowding and raised the Department of Corrections budget to $6 billion. The Bridging Education program is a key piece of the Schwarzenegger administration’s efforts to save money by slashing the number of ex-convicts returning to prison. For each day inmates spend in any of the educational programs, an extra day is knocked off their sentences, trimming incarceration costs that run $31,000 a year per inmate. The program has enrolled as many of the prison system’s 163,000 inmates as traditional classroom education and vocational training classes combined. Critics are unimpressed. Said Andy Hsia-Coron, the negotiator for the teachers union: “You know how Jesus turned water into wine? Well, we’re turning wine to water.”