Improve the Windham School System and Other Prison Education Systems

The Legislature should require the Windham School System and other prison education programs to target their efforts on prisoners most likely to benefit from education, and develop information systems to measure the programs success.

In December 1992, the Texas School Performance Review (TPR) released the results of its management audit of the Windham School System (WSS) Texas school district for inmates of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the educational programs conducted in Texas privately managed prison units. TPR s findings are reflected below and should be considered in the context of the full report, which contains related recommendations.

TPR s audit revealed that improvements in these educational systems would allow TDCJ to reduce the number of offenders returning to prison; based on TDCJ figures, reducing this rate of return would save the state about $28,000 to $35,000 in construction co sts and $13,000 in annual operating costs per inmate.

While prison administrators and state policy makers agree that reducing inmates return (recidivism) rate is WSS s most important goal, almost no programs exist within TDCJ or WSS to measure the impact of current programs on the rate at which inmates return to prison.

In 1989, the National Institute of Justice reported that inmates with higher levels of educational achievement have lower recidivism rates. 1 The 1989 edition of the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice reported the following results:

Offender Percent Re-arrested
Grade Level Within Three Years

8th grade or less 61.9%
Some high school 65.1
High-school graduate 57.4

In addition, an Illinois study reported that 39 percent of the inmates who participated in academic and vocational education while in prison had jobs 12 months after release, compared to only 24 percent of those who had not participated. 2

Within Texas, two recent studies also have demonstrated lower recidivism rates among inmates who receive education in prison. A 1991 TDCJ study found that offenders with a high school education or general equivalency diploma (GED) had lower recidivism rates than those without. Similarly, Henderson County Junior College found that inmates released from the Coffield Unit who completed a postsecondary program of study w hile incarcerated were more likely to be employed after release than other inmates. 3 Studies in other states have demonstrated similar relationships between education and recidivism. As summarized in the WSS report, at least seven recent studies all show that corrections education reduces recidivism. 4

TPR has found that sufficient data do not currently exist to conduct all the types of recidivism analyses that TDCJ and WSS need for decision-making purposes. However, sufficient data do exist to conduct some important recidivism studies and to begin evalu ating current educational programs based upon their impact on recidivism rates.

An abbreviated inmate population analysis presented in the WSS report shows that inmates admitted to TDCJ for a second, third or later offense have a lower education level than those admitted for the first time. 5 This analysis also indicates that increased educational levels are inversely related to the rate at which inmates return to prison.

TDCJ requires inmates testing below the sixth-grade level and lacking a high school diploma to take course work. Twelve other states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons also require inmates functioning below a certain literacy level to participate in educati onal programs. Seven of those states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons mandate a literacy level higher than Texas . 6

WSS targets inmates testing below the sixth-grade level. However, based upon data obtained from WSS, only about 73 percent of the inmates required to take classes are actually enrolled during their incarceration. The remaining 27 percent either are on wait ing lists or are prevented from attending school for security or other reasons. 7

Beyond serving its required student inmates, WSS has no policies targeting the system s limit ed resources to those inmates most likely to stay out of prison if they receive educational classes. In fact, WSS has made no attempts to even identify inmates who, if given an education, would be most likely to not return to prison. Except for being somew hat younger, the profile of WSS students is almost identical to that of TDCJ s non-student inmates further evidence that WSS makes little attempt to target specific types of students.

Since WSS must make choices every day concerning which students will be admitted to education programs, criteria should be developed to select among potential students. For example, inmates with longer sentences should be given priority over inmates that will be released before they can complete a class. High class turnover r ates significantly reduce the number of persons completing classes. (WSS keeps no system-wide data on the number of non-completers, but the proportion is apparently high.)

A. The Texas Legislature should mandate, as a condition of continu ed funding, that Windham School System (WSS) and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) develop and implement a system for annually evaluating the effectiveness of their programs, using appropriate performance measures.

TDCJ and WSS officials should immediately establish an information database to fully evaluate the impact of Windham s programs and policies on the accomplishment of the system s goals.

One measure that should be considered is impact on the rate at which former inmates return to pris on. Other measures should be the impact on costs of incarceration and the employment success of ex-offenders. Beginning no later than January 1995, WSS should be required to submit an annual performance evaluation report to the Legislature based upon these and other appropriate performance measures.

B. WSS should also be directed to expand its vocational and computer-assisted instructional programs.

By expanding both vocational and computer-assisted instructional programs, WSS will become more effective in reducing recidivism and the cost of inmate incarceration and increasing ex-offenders employment success, the three specific goals of the WSS program.

C. Until more complete information is available to measure WSS performance, the system should institute a double-track education system.

Track 1 would consist of a set of basic academic, life-skill and vocational education programs specifically designed for inmates in prison for less than one year. The program should be designed so that it can be completed in nine months or less. Track 2 would provide basic academic and vocational education programs specifically designed for inmates who will be in prison for more than one year. Highest priority for Track 2 programs would be given to young (18 to 30 years of age) inmates sentenced for property (non-violent) crimes with two to three years remaining before release.

D. WSS should expand the average size of its academic classes from 17 to at least 24 students/inmates.

WSS classrooms can accommodate an average of 32 students; current class sizes represent a significant under-utilization of space.

Expanding the average academic class size could yield savings that could be used to increase the number of vocational education classes, by hiring about 80 more vocational teachers and expanding the use of vocational classrooms and labs. In addition, WSS would provide educational services to other inmates on a space-available basis.

E. The Texas Legislature should authorize WSS to adopt the more than 150 recommendations in the Texas School Performance Review (TPR) report.

The recommendations mentioned thus far are only a fraction of the proposals in the report. TPR s review gave highest priority to ensuring that the state complies fully with the terms and conditions of the Ruiz decisions and agreements. TPR believes that the concepts put forth in the report reflect both the spirit and intent of Ruiz . Educational participation will remain open to all who truly want and need it based on objective criteria.

The recommendations would target resources towards inmates educational needs to maximize the system s success in reducing recidivism.

Fiscal Impact
These recommendations would reduce the cost of incarceration and recidivism and increase the employability of ex-offenders. TPR estimates (from WSS and TDCJ data) that about 50 percent of the prison system s daily student population are recidivists. Through a concentrated effort to design programs and target resources on high-potential inmates, WSS should be able to reduce the rate of recidivism by at least 10 percent. In addition, WSS can increase both academic and vocational class sizes, eliminate two instructional regional supervisors, reduce sick leave and achieve other savings as summarized in Chapter 12 of the WSS report for a total savings of $23.4 million over the next five years.

TPR s report recommends that $18.7 million of this amount be reinvested to improve WSS s effectiveness. Improvements to be made include expansion of vocational edu cation programs and computer-assisted instruction, as summarized in Chapter 12 of the WSS report. 8

The net effect of the TPR recommendations and reinvestments results in a minimal amount of general revenue savings in the out years, but produces a significant change in the efficiency and effectiveness of the WSS.

Savings associated with increasing average class sizes are applicable to privately operated prisons as well, but are not estimated here.

1 Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas School Performance Review, Schools Behind Bars: Windham School System and Other Prison Education Programs (Austin, Texas, December 1992), p. 5-8.
2 Ibid., p. 5-9.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., Exhibit 5-1.
5 Ibid., Exhibit 5-2.
6 Ibid., p. 5-11.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., p. 12-4.