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A Modest Proposal

This letter to the editor was published in a newspaper in Michigan, after Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled legislature voted to cut the school budget by $300 per student, and redistribute some of the money to increase funding for prisons:

Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future…by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz
Ithaca Public Schools



  1. Richard wrote:

    Brilliant. Glad you posted this. Thanks.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  2. starluna wrote:

    Excellent. I must share this.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink
  3. Patricia wrote:

    It is important to remember about this post that humane treatment of prisoners was mandated by the courts. The conservative narrative of our country is that prisoners get too many rights because of liberal judges and this very valid argument about schools can and probably will be twisted in that direction.

    It is even more important to know that when we don’t educate children about how the world really works and then don’t give them a way to be productive members of society after they graduate, they end up in prison — that is the reality of radical conservatism’s up-side-down social vision!

    Thanks for this great post!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  4. starluna wrote:

    Patricia – to be exact, the humane treatment of prisoners is mandated by the Constitution. See 8th Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

    Those who argue that prisoners have “too many rights” have obviously not read the Constitution and have no understanding of the history that underlies the inclusion of rights for both the accused and prisoners. In that sense, it is consistent with many radical conservative arguments: completely unfounded in history, law, or reality.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  5. Some Jew wrote:

    Funny, I don’t see much of a difference between government run schools and prisons. Tax payers are forced to support both or the state threatens to harm them or their property. Both are forced by threat of harm by the state that those who they deem should be in the facility be there. The only difference I see is the prison does not try to indoctrinate their slaves while the school system does a damn good job of promoting pro-government ideas and indoctrinating fascism.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  6. No u wrote:

    Starluna: I totally agree with you, the people that argue that prisoners have too many rights are ignorant pigs. What would these prisoners do without movie night! Without the internet they couldnt keep in touch with whats going on in the world! If they dont have cable they will never know whats going on on the Jersey Shore! If they dont get books, no one will know what happens to Harry Potter

    Taxpayers need to stop thinkin about their own wallets and more about our prisoners needs, after all, one of them could of taken your childs life…and they need to be treated well.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  7. Psychobobicus wrote:

    I wouldn’t say prisoners have too many “rights.” I would say they have too many conveniences. In the state where I live, a legislator found out that the state corrections department spends $6,000,000 a year on soda for inmates and tried to put a stop to it. I’ve read the 8th Amendment. I don’t see cable TV, weight-rooms, broadband internet, or free soda anywhere in it.
    As for schools, simply looking at the data over the last 30 years reveals that massive increases in government school spending have resulted in almost no improvement in student performance. In fact, American students have lost ground in math and science. No matter how much money we give the government-education complex, they will always cry for more. Despite the clear data, the mantra is always “If we just had more money!” In the school district where I live, the average school administrator’s salary hovers around $130,000. Perhaps instead of simply blindly throwing money into the gaping maw of the school bureaucracy, we should look at HOW the money is being spent.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  8. PatriotSGT wrote:

    No U – your sarcasm is exactly what I was thinking. What needs to be defined as Starluna states is “humane treatment”. I don’t know of any statistics that can show our current treatment. If we want to talk about fair or equal treatment, have any of you deployed (beside myself) and seen or experienced the conditions our Soldiers endure to serve your government? Laughably, if w exposed our prisoners to those same conditions the government would be sued for not providing humane treatment.
    Our prisoners do not deserve better treatment then our school children. Perhaps we can do away with prisons and house them in citizen’s homes and then spend all the money on our children. Jeez, gimme a break on the humane prisoner treatment garbage. Prison is supposed to be a place to be avoided, not welcome when you need a break from the streets.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  9. David Freeman wrote:

    Gee, Some Jew and No U, I don’t recall fearing rape much less being raped at the public schools I attended. I also sort of remember going home at the end of the day. And didn’t we get to discuss ideas and associate with our peers between classes.

    I’m not a big fan of public schools as implemented, heck I even dropped out back in the day, but without them there would be even less social mobility and opportunity for those without wealthy parents.

    Finally, don’t believe that crap about prisoners being coddled. Maybe I’m wrong but I’m guessing the folks who claim that have never been imprisoned. I’d rather die than spend another day in one … and yes I was indeed innocent.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    Psychobobicus, I mostly agree with you. My experience with public education shows that most of the education money goes to overpaid administrators, not to teachers or students. I suspect the same thing is true of prisons — most of the money is probably going to the private prison industry, not for minor items like soda or cable TV for prisoners. We are being distracted by such news stories.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  11. Patricia wrote:

    Starluna — I actually agree with you exactly — what I was trying to say seems to have happened on this thread — The use of rights for prisoners will be turned on it’s head by hard right-wingers without any of them ever making the connection that insufficient support of education and lack of opportunity after prison creates the prisoners that they believe are getting “too many” constitutional rights!

    I challenge any of them to actually work in or volunteer in a prison setting, get to know the sub-culture that the larger society has created in that system, and not have to come to terms with the “reality” of what exists in prisons versus their unproved narrative of what prisoners “enjoy!” That challenge would hold true if any of them actually worked in a struggling, poor school system as well!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  12. Phil wrote:

    Nathan: Give me a break if you educated instead of indoctrinated you would not have the prison population you have. If you want to help the kids, quit your job. The problem is you, your draining the dollars needed. Over paid administration and their secretaries, helpers etc are the real drain! One Superintendent, no principal’s per school, JUST ONE SUPERINTENDENT per school system, God knows you get paid enough to run it all. Then that’s it done finished no more games. Big pay, pensions that go by what you make not what you invested, and health care that last 30 after your out. Please stop your lies and misleading ideas of prisons are better! You and your friends with your fat pay packages are what has failed the ” Children”! Someone on this blog go and find out this clowns pay package. Then you will see the real problem!!!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  13. Matt Vomacka wrote:

    The piece could actually be considered an insult to the memory of that which the author may have intended it as tribute, though I do not for reasons which shall be explained later, for it is far from being a tenth as excellently complex in terms of prose style as the original – obviously to anyone! – as it lacks the excellent (though exploded, not Ciceronian) periodic structure which adds suspense to the original and subordinates the more subtle problems with Swift’s argument beneath the reader’s attention by leading the driving point to the end (as indeed this sentence does); stilll, how can a protege of classical rhetoric, oratory, what have you you expect the lineage of Cicero and Demosthenes, when schoolchildren learn in facilities inferior to prisoners and suffer from attention problems and dose themselves on medicine which destroy their reading comprehension, which incidentally means that none of you have actually read this far into the sentence, to possibly survive? TELL ME HOW!

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  14. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Patricia – are u for real? How much time have you spent in an inner city or poor suburban area? You’re right, we need better education, but we need to educate parents. Mandatory parenting classes, nutrition classes, job classes, cleaning classes, how to contribute to society classes. Having 3 children by 3 different partners by age 22 isn’t helping. After the 3rd arrest the chances of getting through is almost 0. 50% of the prison population (i’ve worked for law enforcement for the better part of 10 years)is likely not going to change and will most likely be in and out the rest of their life.
    Inmates don’t deserve many of the “conveniences” they receive. For instance, tax payers pay for a phone card so inmates can talk to family. US Soldiers don’t even receive a phone card from tax payer money when they are asked to fight and die for their country. They do get phone cards and many other giftd in donations from incredible Americans everywhere. All the “prison perks” should come from donations if folks like you want to give them. In the war zones I spent months in a tent with 12-15 other Soldiers, cramped, with about 20 square feet of space and had to walk 100 yards to use a toilet, never mind a shower. Treat our prisoners like our Soldiers, no better no worse. Again, if you don’t like it donate.
    But, to really change to problem of our prisons and the growing population, IMO, we need to attack the contributing factors. Irresponible behavior that starts with the parents. It’s what pulls schools down, depresses neighborhoods, keeps hope from shining through and deters ambition and hard work. Train parents, mandatorily if warranted, and you will improve the situation.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  15. Iron Knee wrote:

    Ok, I’ve been resisting posting this story, but everyone who is complaining about the perks given to prisoners, read this story about an interesting thing they are doing in Norway:–catch-UK.html

    The question you have to ask yourself is, are you more interested in punishing people, or are you more interested in actually reducing crime and giving people a chance at a better, more productive life? The choice is ours.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  16. starluna wrote:

    PatrioSgt – it is not appropriate to compare the conditions volunteer soldiers, especially those deployed, live in with prisoners (the majority of whom are in prison for simple possession and who did not voluntarily go there). First of all, we all recognize that soldiers are not properly supported, at least not in the recent era. When my sister first enlisted in the 1980s, she did not have to pay for her clothing or gear. Now she does. The lack of proper support given to soldiers is not at all related to what privileges prisoners do or do not get.

    Second, you must recognize that being in law enforcement is not the same as having the experience of actually being a prisoner. Not only are you not a prisoner but you are also in a position of power vis-a-vis the prisoner.

    Third, a soldier may be deployed in the field for two or three years. Granted, their service has been abused in these wars, with many doing 3 or more deployments of 18 months or longer. But, this is not the same as being incarcerated for 5-10 years, the average sentence of those convicted of drug crimes.

    Having been in a few prisons in my life, I can safely say that the claims about prisoner privileges have as much veracity as the Cadillac-driving, fur coat-wearing welfare queen. There are prisons that provide cable but the majority do not. Not all prisons have access to physical fitness activities either. Many prisons do not have either a library or access to GED classes (notwithstanding the few that provide access to college level classes). And frankly, providing soda to prisoners should be viewed as cruel and unusual, given the relationship between soda drinking and health issues.

    Ever been to a women’s prison? Talk to your average long term inmate she’ll tell you all kinds of stories of being forced into sex acts with guards and other persons in authority. Does this happen in the military. Yes, but the chances that this will be taken seriously in the modern era are increasing (can’t say the same about prisons) and the risk of it happening are not nearly as high as in prison.

    If you visit your local medium and high security prison, you will find that prisoners are actually working to earn mere change per hour in order to buy that soda, their cigarettes, and often even those calling cards. Whatever amenities prisoners have are usually provided by their families. If you visit the prisons in the South, especially where we have privatized prison systems, and you will find the contemporary version of chain gangs working both in the fields and in the governor’s mansions, most of the prisoners trying to earn money to pay off some debt that was created as a consequence of their imprisonment.

    The costs of prisons is related to the enormous number of people we’ve put in prison, the majority for drug addiction, as well as the privatized system of support and management. Since government now contracts the majority of prison services, from meal preparation to laundry to health care, it has lost control over the costs. Several studies on the cost-effectiveness of privatized prison services has found that many corrections departments have very few cost control mechanisms in their contracts, sometimes as directed by their state legislature.

    Finally, one of our local budget watchdog groups did a study of the use of the money going into our local education system. What they found was that 100% of the increases in the education budget over the last couple of decades has gone to pay for increases in the cost of health care insurance. Part of this is related to what I view as overly generous benefits packages, but mostly it has to do with the increased cost of health insurance. I don’t know if this is the case elsewhere, but I suspect that it very likely could be.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  17. Iron Knee wrote:

    Well put, Starluna.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  18. Dan wrote:

    I sent this to all my conservative friends.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  19. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Starluna – thanks for the well thought out response as usual. I am not equating the inmates inprisoned for simple possession with the sexual predators, thieves, murderers, assaulters, and narcotic distributers. I do not disagree that we can likely find a better way to deal with simple criminal incarcerations then throwing them in with the more hardened personalties where the only thing they get is finishing school for more serious crime. Perhaps what is need are lower security rehabilitative communities for those offenders.
    If we seaprate our discussions into the 2 or 3 different groups and address each as a distinct entity perhaps we can reach some consensus on more appropriate means at rehabilitating those whom have a higher probability of overcoming their mistakes. When people talk about all as “simple possession” problems it severely diminishes the offenses of the rest. In this context it mingles the 3 groups and gets us in gridlock because there are those that cannot or will not ever change. Lets start a more comprehensive conversation that deals with the real 3 different groups we have.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  20. Don wrote:

    Joan Petersilia of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center had a very insightful article published in Wilson Quarterly in the Winter 2011 edition of the magazine. Unfortunately, it requires one be a member of the website to view the full article and I’ve found no other link to it.

    The lead-in to the story, though, is worth repeating: “The announcement last summer that in 2009 the number of Americans behind bars had increased for the 37th year in a row provoked a fresh round of national soul-searching. With its prisons and jails now holding some 2.4 million inmates—roughly one in every 100 adults—the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any free nation. As a proportion of its population, the United States incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany, and 12 times more than Japan. “No other rich country is nearly as punitive as the Land of the Free,” The Economist has declared.”

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  21. ZJD wrote:

    “Beware of those in whom the will to punish is strong.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  22. JCfromDC wrote:

    Since the public/government school system graduates people who cannot read, write, spell and barely even speak (heard an NFL “pro” talk lately?), consquently BREEDING the kinds of criminals we incarcerate, then turning public schools into prisons doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. That’s what most of them look like on the outside anyway. Why not just finish the job and be done with it?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink
  23. Meghan wrote:

    Being a student, i see the kind of discipline students are accustomed to. The “security officers” are more concerned with kids having cell phones out than protecting bullied kids. It would not be a bad idea to use money to hire better people. That is better than let kids think they can get away with the bullying and the kids who are bullied not knowing how to deal with it. That makes more people to put in the prisons and the need for the money to be spent on the prisons themselves. The whole system is backward, so I am not supporting this decision but it is not so much Snyder’s fault, but ours for letting our societal system get to be this way. If there were fewer people needing to go to prison, then there would be fewer dollars to be spent, therefore more money to dedicate to schools (where money is needed the most).

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink
  24. J. Anthony Carter wrote:

    What’s so incredibly ludicrous is that she had to write a letter, to someone who’s JOB it is to do what she wants him to do, spelling out the absurdity of what he’s doing to him. People who abuse a political position like that should be put in prison for their blatant stupidity and corruption! My guess is the prisons are either State or privately run and the money is actually going into the pockets of the administrators or Wardens, NOT to the prisoners!

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink
  25. R. Alexander wrote:

    “by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.”

    Because they’re doing such a good job at it now. See: Growth In U.S. Prison Population.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink
  26. Joshua Maslansky wrote:

    While i agree that “schools need to be treated more like prisons”, there is logic and reason in the conditions of prisons. most criminals aren’t in prison for life, and prison is supposed to be “rehabilitation”. If they were treated like animals in prison,. imagine how they would act when they were released. the conveniences are to keep inmates sane so that when they are released they at the very least don’t go back to their old ways

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  27. starluna wrote:

    J Anthony Carter – what is the alternative to either state or privately run prisons?

    R Alexander – the growth in the prison population is directly linked to increased criminalization of behavior, particularly drug possession. In the report linked below, the Justice Policy Institute makes clear that the vast majority of the increase in incarcerated peoples are for non-violent (which most of us know are drug related) offenses. You can also see that the number of people incarcerated and the rate of incarceration took off just as the war on drugs took off.

    The schools can’t people out of prison if we continue criminalize addiction.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  28. R Alexander wrote:

    Starluna, I agree that criminalization is not working. However, it’s irrelavant to my point. Mr. Bootz implies that schools (and their increased funding) are necessary to develop the type of citizens who make the good choices that keep them out of prison.

    Your post seems to indirectly support my thought here. Schools don’t have an impact on addiction except maybe as a place where you can purchase drugs

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  29. starluna wrote:

    R. Alexander – I interpret both of your statements to imply that schools contribute to incarceration, at least indirectly. If that is your point, then it is not supported by the facts.

    As one of my colleagues continually finds, those without a high school education are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than those without. See for example:

    Decades of research has found a strong inverse relationship between education, rates of imprisonment, and rates of addiction. In short, more education, less prison and less addiction.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  30. jim sadler wrote:

    America has never had sanity in its social structure or economy. Yes, convicts that will eventually be released really must receive treatment that restores or enhances their social and economic abilities or there will be hell to pay by society. Yet in a nation where many working people suffer economic deprivation and social abuse how can we treat convicts better then innocent working people?
    Jobs will continue to vanish as technology displaces workers. Should we go into our schools and tell the kids that their best chances in life are in prisons? Or should we make certain that even people who do not work get a healthy pay check? We also need to deal with the fact that permanent incarceration is a very good thing in regard to many convicts including those that sell drugs.The use and sale of recreational drugs may be the most violent of all crimes in its effects upon the public.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  31. Iron Knee wrote:

    So, should we send all the alcohol, tobacco, and coffee sellers to jail?

    The war on drugs has massively failed. Countries like Portugal that have decriminalized drugs have seen drug use go down, and drug crime go WAY down. If you care about the “effects upon the public” then you should want to decriminalize drugs.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink
  32. Guard- the Truth wrote:

    I did not read the comments. That is because the letter by Mr. Bootz is nonsense. I do not know the per capita cost of incarceration in Mi., but I have questions. Does he include the huge costs of maximum security? Construction and upkeep? Staff security? I know that the medical care in federal prison is near nonexistent and what care there is leaves much to be desired. There is minimal and controlled access to the internet in federal prison, and the libraries are usually woefully inadequate, including the law libraries where I have seen people somehow research their way to freedom (yes, they were innocent). And the food- don’t take your date for a dinner at a “prison style” restaurant. You will lose him/her real fast. Weights are no longer allowed at fed lock-up. What is there is it- no new equipment is allowed. If something breaks and the inmates can’t fix it, it is gone and no replacement is allowed. And yes, you can ,Gasp, earn a degree, if you are in a facility that has some tutoring (usually provided by other prisoners) and you either get a scholarship or pay for it yourself. Get the facts first, then comment.

    Friday, October 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  33. Arthanyel wrote:

    Guard the truth: You didn’t read, because you aren’t interested in educating yourself. The letter is hardly nonsense. It is a fact that Michigan spends more than 30,000 per prisoner per year, and 7,000 on a child. It is fact they lead the nation in incarcerations. And it is morally wrong to take money away from caring for childre to spend more on prisoners.

    Bootz’ letter was intended to be sarcastic – obviously you missed that. But his point is completely valid – and you should read some the comments and get yourself and education.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  34. tock wrote:

    If the government stopped subsidizing education in the first place, we would not have read this letter in the first place. Forces of the free market would dictate the price of education. Then the subject of this letter would be laughable.

    Monday, November 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  35. Ria13 wrote:

    The biggest reason for our ridiculously high amount of prisoners is conviction for nonviolent crimes. A lot of prisoners are simply people who chose to exercise their natural right to consume whatever they want, and that just happened to be drugs. People who otherwise could take care of themselves and contribute to the taxes being paid that should support our educational system (one which needs revolutionizing) are instead being thrown in prison and made a drain on our society simply because of arbitrary rules that the government keeps in place because they can’t admit that their drug war is a failure.
    I also want to say that I think that Starluna has contributed some very good points to this discussion.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink