House Bill Prompts Examination of TDCJ Rehabilitation, Programming


House Bill Prompts Examination of TDCJ Rehabilitation, Programming

The Correctional Management Institute of Texas hosted the Governor-appointed Task Force on Academic Credit and Industry Recognition for offenders to begin a four-year process that will explore the current rehabilitation and education programs in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

By: Veronica Gonzalez / vgonzalez@shsu.edu

On March 1, the Governor-appointed Task Force on Academic Credit and Industry Recognition for offenders met to begin a four-year process that will explore the current rehabilitation and education programs in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

The Correctional Management Institute of Texas at the George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center hosted the inaugural meeting of the Task Force, created by House Bill 553 during the 85th Texas Legislation.

The Task Force is comprised of various representatives from key areas of support within TDCJ and higher education, with the goal to identify opportunities for awarding high school or college credit or awarding of industry-recognized credentials or certificates.

“I think the agency is doing many great things, but if it’s not leading to employment when these individuals get out then I think we need to look at that,” said Mike Bell, presiding officer of the Task Force and vice president of Correction at Management & Training Corporation. “We’re really going to dig into the house bill today, educate each other on what’s being done, and set some goals.”

Appointed Task Force members also include Tac Buchanan, regional coordinator at Bridges to Life, Dr. Sam Hurley, vice president of Correctional Education Division and administrator of the Prison Educational Division at Trinity Valley Community College, Vanessa Steinkamp, a professor at Tarrant County Community College, and Jim Yeonopolus, chancellor of Central Texas College.

Other members of the Task Force include, Oscar Mendoza, deputy executive director of TDCJ, Rene Hinojosa, director of the Rehabilitation Programs Division of TDCJ, Dr. Clint Carpenter, superintendent of the Windham School District, Garry Tomerlin, deputy assistant director of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Dr. Kerry Ballast, director of the Texas Workforce Commission.

Members spent the majority of the day poring over current data, discussing the benefits to post-secondary training for offenders on parole, and planning to identify areas for improvement and recommendation.

Bryan Collier, executive director of TDCJ, provided the Task Force an overview of TDCJ and Rene Hinojosa presented facts about and benefits of post-secondary training, explaining how their program works and collaborates with various higher education institutions all over the state.

From September 2017 to January 2018, 6,408 offenders submitted an interest form to the program, whereas 2,331 enrolled in an academic program, and 1,323 enrolled in a vocational program.

Offenders can pay for the program various ways, but The Pell Grant’s Second Chance Program funding is ideal. Hinojosa’s presentation led to discussion over various funding situations within The Pell Grant. Although there are other funding options, The Pell Grant continues to provide the best opportunity for offenders.

“99% of those that are incarcerated are designated as in poverty. Less than 1% are probably going to be at the financial status to pay their way,” said Dr. Clint Carpenter. “If we can get them higher paying jobs for their first jobs, we can reduce those who resort to what got them in trouble in the first place.”

Tac Buchanan hopes to start conversations to find a way to bridge education and faith-based programming. As a former offender himself, he knows how hard it is to try to get started again after time in prison. In his experience, it takes more than education to make a difference in an offender’s life.

“Nobody’s in prison because they had an easy life. They’re in prison because they’re hurting,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that if he [the inmate] doesn’t change his heart, nothing is going to change. It takes all of us to make a difference and change their lives.”

Buchanan has seen 6,000 men graduate through the Bridges to life program and is grateful for the opportunity to represent a different aspect to rehabilitation for offenders.

Meetings will be hosted quarterly. Terms for the Task Force is set to expire on Dec. 1, 2021.

Member of The Texas State University System