According to the Texas Department of Correctional Services, 35 percent of female inmates and 60 percent of males entering the correctional system do not have a verified high school or GED diploma. With significant educational needs and few marketable skills, opportunities to make a living wage legally upon release are severely limited. A study funded by the United States Department of Education found that participation in correctional education programs lowers the likelihood of re-incarceration by 29 percent and that for every dollar spent on education, more than two dollars in reduced prison costs would be returned to taxpayers. The Federal Bureau of Prisons also found a 33 percent drop in recidivism among people detained in federal facilities who participate in vocational and apprenticeship training. Helping inmates develop construction skills not only assists them in finding good paying jobs and stay crime-free upon release, it may alleviate the anticipated nationwide shortage of construction workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry will need a quarter of a million new craft professionals per year to replace an aging and retiring workforce. Prairie Gold Homes also helps meet local needs for more accessible, affordable, and energy-efficient housing options. Modular homes built through the program can be a cost-effective housing solution for seniors, people requiring transitional housing, people with disabilities, and people with lower incomes.
Graduates of the Prairie Gold Homes job training program are better able to provide for themselves and their families when they leave the correctional system. They help fill the construction labor pool and contribute to the state’s economy. Helping former inmates succeed in society and stay out of prison saves taxpayers over $27,000 annually per inmate. New housing stock built through the program helps to revitalize communities, adds to the tax base, and provides income for local businesses. The Prairie Gold Homes organization evolved from a pilot project begun by the Texas Investment Finance Authority. The pilot program taught many valuable lessons and posted impressive results:
- The rate of recidivism (returning to prison) for individuals who completed the construction training program was less than 3 percent, compared to over 21 percent for other Texas inmates.
- Fifty-two homes were built and located in 18 communities throughout eastern and central Texas. Two of these homes are meeting the needs of people with disabilities and eighteen homes were sited on the Omaha Reservation in Macy.
The success of the Prairie Gold Homes job training program is evaluated in many ways. Department of Corrections staff members charts inmate interest, waiting lists, and performance of participants with pre/post skills and aptitude tests. Upon release, each graduating participant is tracked with the assistance of a re-entry service provider partner to determine job placement success and subsequent work history. Correctional partners compile recidivism and cost data for participants. The placement and use of homes constructed through the program are also monitored; community benefits are calculated by participating housing partners.