For the past decade, Texas prisoners 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. The Austin American-Statesman says that 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. The remaining 16,088 ex-convicts owe the state $9.5 million.
Overseen by the prison system’s Windham School District, which legislative leaders have 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. “The idea of having anyone paying us back in a program like this is ludicrous. There’s no way to collect.” 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.