In the United States there are dozens, if not hundreds, of institutions that call themselves “reformatories.” The truth of the matter is, there are absolutely no reformatories in the United States if you take the name to have some sort of meaning. In fact, there never has been. The most honest moniker is “penal institution,” which some actually call themselves. They, at least, are honest.
The problem in the United States is not what we do with convicted criminals so much as it is how they became criminals. The studies of the demographics to violent offenders brings out a couple of facts shared by the overwhelming majority of such offenders: poverty and lack of education. Republican love to use the rube about teaching a man to fish but God help the man if he says he does not have the means or access to such education. Worse, he should never complain that the offered education is substandard. On this final point those same Republicans are quick to offer up a “voucher system” so he can see a good education elsewhere. This, of course, assumes that the individual has the means and where withal to get to such education, or that it even exists at a reasonable distance from his present location.
All public school systems derive their funding from three basic sources, the federal government, their state government, and the educational district in which they reside. The last accounts for towns that band together collectively to provide primary and/or secondary educational facilities. Federal and state educational funding is traditionally allocated according to populations. And this is exactly where the problem begins. The cost that the Boston public school systems needs to properly education a child is far more than a single student is Memphis Tennessee. Why then, do some think the $5000 the fed sends per child in Boston should go as far as that student in Greenwood? It makes no sense at all.
Greenwood Mississippi has a population of about 15,000 with a total public school enrollment of roughly 3000. Its per capita income is about $24,900 and spends about $7800 per student. The population of Hopkinton Massachusetts is about 15,000 with a total public school enrollment of about 3400. Its per capital income is about $69,100 and spends about $12,200 per student. The cost of living, according to the US Census bureau, is placed at 137 for Hopkinton and 92 in Greenwood. According to this, it takes 33% more money to educate a student in Hopkinton than in Greenwood. But Hopkinton is actually spending 36% more per student than Greenwood, disproportionate, poor town versus well-to-do town. In Weston Massachusetts, fewer than 10 miles distant from Hopkinton with roughly the same student population, each student receives about $19,100 in aid. The expenditure per student in Pascagoula MS is about $8800, a full 12% more but Pascagoula is one of the state’s wealthier communities. The high school graduation rate in Pascagoula is 78% and Greenwood is 62%. Care to guess which municipality has the greater violent crime rate? Violent crime rate of Greenwood is 609 while Pascagoula is 329!
Public education is not cheap, which is probably an understatement, but the cost per prisoner per year in the United States is roughly $34,100! The average time violent offenders spend in U.S. prisons is about 100 months. The total time each student spends in school, grades 1 – 12, is exactly 108 months! Maybe if we spent more money on each student in poorer school districts we could actually reduce that municipality’s crime rate and increase the number of productive citizens.
We would do well to invest in our inner city schools and poor school districts with the idea of making those school resemble more closely schools existing in wealthier areas. Giving a person a voucher does not automatically give him access to high achieving educational facilities. That student with the $7800 voucher in Greenwood would have to make up the $1000 to go to the Pascagoula system saying he could get there in the first place. But maybe if we were able to give each student in Greenwood $8800 we would find the violent crime rate go down, the graduation rate go up, and our entire educational system a little bit healthier.
This is all a very simplistic view of a very complicated problem but there are certain basics that can be asserted. The most basic of which is if you want your inner city school and poor school districts to give as good an education as the wealthier one, then you have to offer commensurate facilities, teachers, and access. Right now that simply is not happening.