Can you believe that Maine spends an average of $44,379 per year for each of our prison inmates?
That's right - a meth-addicted sex offender wasting away in Warren is worth more more than I am as a sixth-year teacher with a master's degree. Thousands more, in fact.
I learned this uplifting statistic from The Maine View, my favorite news commentary blog, which I started reading after its author, Derek Viger, ripped me a few months ago for writing that merit pay for teachers would be hard to implement.
It's payback time.
Derek, who consulted educator.com for his stats, has been seething over the fact that Maine is only one of six states that lavishes more money at convicts than beginning teachers.
But he didn't consider all the facts.
For one thing, teachers get summers off, plus several weeks of vacation during the school year. Prisoners don't get time off. They have to be prisoners all the time. It's like they're on call 24/7.
Secondly, teachers get the satisfaction of knowing they're making a difference in the lives of children, guiding the development of tomorrow's leaders, war veterans, and Wal-Mart greeters. Prisoners get one conjugal visit per month, at most.
So, after thinking it over, I'd rather be a teacher than an inmate.
Still, the whole issue made me wonder: why does Maine have the highest per-prisoner cost in the United States? Do the inmates get health insurance? TiVo? Matching IRA contributions? Strippers to perform at their birthday parties?
I called up the Department of Corrections and spoke with Associate Commissioner Denise Lord, who set me straight. It's clowns, not strippers, for the birthday parties.
Ha! Just kidding. We all know what a great sense of humor Maine corrections officials have, right? If you don't believe me, watch "Shawshank Redemption."
Associate Commissoner Lord blamed the inefficiency on "economies of scale." We have "the lowest incarceration rate in the country," she said, which means the math can't be spread out among thousands and thousands of criminals like it is in, say, Massachusetts.
Our prison system is not centralized; instead, we have several smaller facilities sprinkled all over a relatively large area.
Compounding the problem: "Most of our facilities are more than 75 years old," says Lord, which makes them that much more fun to heat and maintain.
Derek at The Maine View probably didn't consider that the per-inmate figure includes the costs of buildings, but the teacher salary figure does not.
In other words, he's not comparing apples to apples. He's comparing apples to cakes with hacksaws hidden in them.
Lord is also quick to point out that inmates save others money through forced labor. They weld and repair equipment for other state agencies and help clean and maintain parks. They alo provide umpteen thousand hours worth of community service.
Lord told me they even had some helping out at the American Folk Festival (maybe someone should take another look at why the festival keeps losing money).
Anywho, what have we learned from all this?
First: If anything, we should be consolidating prisons, not school systems. Let's build one giant jail next door to Derek Viger's house, and send everybody there. Funnel the savings into education, so today's youth will be less likely to get derailed by criminal pursuits like drugs and volunteering at the folk festival.
Second: One conjugal visit per month doesn't sound too bad, the more I think about it...