TDCJ coordinates with Windham, TAB to prep offenders for post-release jobs

ITEM FILE PHOTOMore than 25 years into her career with the Windham School District, Terry Murray says she’s still enthused and energized by her job teaching offenders in the Texas prison system. The Windham School District is one of many local organizations that helps adults better themselves through education. 

Thousands of prisoners in the Lone Star State work inside the institutions, washing clothes, making furniture and renovating vehicles. 

For many of the near-60,000 inmates that are released each year, building a successful life in the free world means finding a good ‘second-chance’ job. Multiple studies have confirmed that when a released offender finds gainful employment, their chances of returning to prison go down dramatically.

To help satisfy the demand for skilled workers, representatives from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Windham School District and the Texas Association of Business met in December at the Travis County State Jail to sign a Memorandum of Understanding pledging commitment to a shared goal: teaching valuable job skills to offenders who are about to reenter society and building a network of second-chance employers where they can find work.

“One of the most important, perhaps the most important way we achieve public safety is when someone gets out and doesn’t come back,” TDCJ executive director Bryan Collier said. “That’s true public safety. That’s the public safety that’s long lasting. That happens many, many times, because of employment.”

Longstanding barriers to post-release employment have declined as effective in-prison education and job skills training, along with substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, have helped many thousands of released offenders rejoin society as honest, hard working citizens.

“More and more offenders are finding jobs in the community every day, and more and more employers are willing to hire someone who’s been in prison,” Collier said. “Those same employers are finding out that by giving them a chance they’re hiring people who are very good workers, who do an outstanding job and make their company stronger.”

Windham School District Superintendent Kristina Hartman noted that offender employment programs are being measured by their success rate rather than the number of certificates and diplomas awarded.

“We’re utilizing the robust training programs provided through the Windham School District for career and technical education and soft skills and aligning that with the needs of Texas employers,” Hartman said. “Our end goal has really shifted from number of certifications awarded to ‘Are we actually placing individuals in employment in the community where they can make a living wage and support themselves and their families?’

“Without the support of the business community and their support of these individuals for employment, we would not be as effective. We invite employers who are interested in our training program to contact us for a tour of the facilities. We are located at 90 institutions throughout the state of Texas, so we’ll be readily accessible to anyone who would like to come in and take a tour.”