Private program graduating Texas' first 'inmate pastors'

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Thirty-three Texas prisoners are graduating from a behind-bars seminary program this weekend -- part of an initiative producing what organizers say are the first "pastor inmates" in state history.

State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who heads the chamber's Criminal Justice Committee, says 185 prisoners are working to earn college degrees in biblical studies, including Saturday's graduates.

The program only offers Christian and biblical studies, is privately funded, and is taught by professors from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary visiting prisons.

Whitmire says Texas is "still the toughest state in the union" on violent offenders, but that the program has improved prisoner morale and reduced violence against guards.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says the program would have been impossible "without the hand of God."

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