- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

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.

Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who heads the chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee, said 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 taught by professors from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary visiting prisons.

Whitmire said Texas is “still the toughest state in the union” on violent offenders, but that the program has improved prisoner morale and reduced cellblock cursing and violence against guards.

His voice cracking, deeply religious Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the program wouldn’t have been possible “without the hand of God.”

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