Texas has the first or second largest prison system in the United States. In 1990, there were 43 prisons statewide. Ten years later, there were 127.  Texas has been referred to as “The Gulag State” and the “Incarceration Nation” by people shocked at the state’s penchant for imprisoning its citizens. 

At the height of Stalin’s purges in 1936, one in every 8 Soviet citizens were in prison, jail, a gulag or awaiting execution. In 2012, the U.S. Dept. of Justice reported that one in every 7 Texas citizens was under some form of criminal justice supervision or awaiting execution. Texas is, supposedly, a constitutional democracy.

By adopting and aggressively utilizing pre-trial diversion programs and sentencing reforms in the 2010s, Texas has managed to downsize its prison system to its present size of 102 prisons. The state’s recidivism rate hovers around 30.7 percent as opposed to the national average of 67.5 percent. 

As optimistic as these figures seem, Texas could do much better in all of these areas if it would utilize the statistically proven most effective and safest tool it has at its disposal to drastically reduce its already low recidivism rate, save its taxpayers millions of dollars yearly and even shutter a few of its ancient, decrepit prisons.

That key is education.

A 2003 study by the Earl Carl Institute reveals that Texas has led the nation since 1988 in the number of prisons hosting accredited junior colleges and universities to present classes at

the education departments within its prisons toward prisoners earning associate, bachelor and master degrees. The study’s findings, based on historical data collections, show a 10% 

recidivism rate for prisoners who had earned an associate degree while in prison, 5.6 % for prisoners who had earned a bachelor’s degree while in prison and a zero percent recidivism

rate for prisoners who had earned a master degree while in prison.

The study went on to show degree attainment for prisoners in the 2000-2001 school year was 373 associate degrees, 61 bachelor degrees and 6 master degrees. Sadly, only 1% of prisoners released from Texas prisons that year held a college or university degree. 

The study also showed that the release of 1,000 prisoners who had earned bachelor degrees while in prison would save Texas $59,000,000 yearly.

This study was revisited and updated in 2010 by professors Marsha Johnson, Katherine Bauer and Elizabeth Tagle of Texas’ Thurgood Marshall Law School. The update shows degrees earned by prisoners for the 2007-2008 school years were 509 associate degrees, 56 bachelor degrees and 15 master degrees. Sadder still, less than l percent of prisoners released from Texas prisons that year held a college or university degree earned in prison despite the increased number of prisoners who had earned degrees. In spite of their statistically proven lower recidivism rates, the vast majority of imprisoned college and university degree-holding prisoners continue to languish in prisons, drawing consecutive three, five, seven and ten year long parole set-offs despite their well-proven suitability for parole release from prison.

Texas has the key to parole a multitude of prisoners whose release would not endanger the public and would lower recidivism rates that are already lower than the nation’s average. These people would earn higher than average salaries because of their educational attainment; would decrease governmental dependence and increase revenue through sales taxes and stimulus. This would also decrease the state’s prisoner population to the point where Texas could permanently shutter some of its ancient, crumbling prisons, enabling administrative and security guards to be reassigned to its other short-staffed prisons.

In my case, I was convicted of a murder I did not commit in a proceeding where the judge was the victim’s father-in-law. The judge’s son was the second chair prosecutor. I knew that any chance I ever had at parole would at best be a long shot and even then difficult to realize.

Since my incarceration began, I have earned four associate degrees, one BBA and one BA degree and three master degrees. The last two of my MA degrees are in Humanities and Literature from the University of Houston – Clear Lake, student number 1128312. I earned them through classroom instruction at the Ramsey prison unit’s education department.

I have successfully completed numerous prison rehabilitative programs from Alpha, Anger Management, Bridges to Live, Cognitive Intervention to Voyager, all of them favorites of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to include a one year long Faith-Based Dorm program. I have a good disciplinary history.

I do leathercraft in the unit’s craft shop, worked on the chaplaincy’s sound crew for years and regularly contribute articles to the Human Rights Defense Center’s two publications: Criminal Legal News and Prison Legal News. I tutored prisoners in reading programs for years and am a two time winner of minor writing awards from PEN AMERICA.

Since 2007 I have been given three consecutive five year long parole set-offs. All used the same justifying reason “Seriousness and the nature of the offense.” That reason is static, can NEVER change, even though I have changed, for the better, despite being an innocent convictee. I am receiving set-offs because Texas is angry at me, not because Texas is afraid of me.

Everyone would win if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles would order the release of the prison system’s extremely well educated prisoners. Out of a current prisoner population of

138,500 or so; 76,855 of us are eligible for parole and serving set-offs, many of whom make up the subset of being extremely well educated. I am one of that subset.

At 64 years of age, and under the current world circumstances, it looks as though I will either wind up doing death by incarceration or by COVID-19. Since I am healthy and have constantly tested negative for C-19, it looks more like I will live to be a really, really old prisoner, to eventually die by incarceration.

Come on, parole board members, it is long past time for you to “turn that key!”

Ed Lyon is serving time in Texas and can be contacted here:

Ed Lyon #454153

1100 FM 655: Ramsey

Rosharon, TX 77583-7670

Sources: The Soviet Union and the Failure of Collective Security,

1934-1939, pp. 125-142 (1984) Cornell University Press; United

States Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics; Texas

Legislative Budget Board; www . earlcarl.org;

https://prisoneducation.com; www.gritsforbreakfast.com