Teachers Vs Inmates. Inmates Win. UPDATED

I am not an angry person. It takes a lot to push me over. I can get passionate about a subject, but it’s a rare event when I’m actually moved to pure anger. When I read what I’m about to discuss I do believe my face turned fire engine red and scalding steam came out my ears. I’ve settled enough now, only took me 12 hours, to inform you about what got me so riled up.  We’re going to talk a bit about schools and prisons.  This is not a condemnation of public education.  I’m not going to be shouting that our schools are like prisons, though maybe they should be.  What do I mean by that?

A report released by the Educator compared how much state taxpayers spend per prisoner and how much a starting teacher gets paid annually.  Most states spent more per starting teacher, including our New England neighbors New Hampshire and Connecticut.  Alabama had the largest difference spending roughly $31,000 per teacher and roughly $8,000 per inmate.  Six states however spend more annually on their inmates than their teachers.  Those states are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, and our great state of Maine.  Guess who has the highest differential between inmates and teachers.  We do!

Maine’s starting teachers get $26,643.  For two parents and a child that is almost below the poverty line.  What is spent per inmate?  $44,379 a year.  That is more than any other New England state.  Maine starting teachers are the second lowest paid in New England, beating Vermont by a couple hundred bucks.

We can debate all day long whether or not prisoners should be reformed or punished while in prison.  We live in a state that is talking about cutting school days to save money.  Taking away from a child’s learning experience, interrupting a child’s preparation for a meaningful life, to save money.  Yet people who broke the law, leaving aside debate on whether or not we agree with those laws, get more money per person than those teaching our children.  Does that make sense?

We want to give our children the best chance at life we can.  Part of that process is school.  Hiring and retaining excellent teachers furthers that goal.  How do we expect to keep teachers living in Maine, which is not a cheap place to live, if we can’t compete with our neighbors?

If we do not give our children the foundations of a productive rewarding life guess where they are likely to end up.  Just another inmate in Maine’s prison system.

UPDATE: A few statistics for everyone.  As of 2007 there were 2080 inmates in Maine’s state prisons.  That is 265 inmates over capacity.  The Pew Charitable Trusts projects a 21 percent increase in prison population from 2006 to 2011.  The average state crime index in 2006 (per 1,000 people) was 26.5.  In 2008, Massachusetts had 2,849.1 crimes per 100,000 people.  As of 2007 Massachusetts state prisons were housing 10,791 inmates.  The average salary of Maine elementary school teachers for 2008 was $$44,510, much closer to our inmate spending.  Mass teachers averaged $58,257 in 2007, far above what they spent per inmate.

So Massachusetts has a higher crime rate, more prisoners and spends $7,000 less than we do in Maine, while paying teachers on average roughly $13,000 more.  Of course they have a great deal more tax revenue to play around with in Mass than we do here.

What do people think about this new data?


9 Responses

  1. The statistic of $26,643 isn’t quite accurate. By law, Maine’s starting (and not-so-starting) teachers actually get paid $30,000. I expect the report’s lower number is based on salary scales, not the fact that the state kicks in whatever additional dollars are needed to bring the individual’s salary up to $30,000.

    The difference between the teacher pay and inmate care is about $3,400 less than reported.

  2. Need to stop making prison like the ritz. ‘ BEAT THEM, BASH THEM IN THE HEAD”. No really, something is terribly wrong when you have these figures. They must be treated too well. It is not suppose to be a place you enjoy being at.

  3. As a teacher, I find this quite disturbing as well, but I have to wonder if the numbers are skewed by our low crime rate/lack of prisoners. I’d be more interested in finding out if we’re spending more per prisoner, even though we have a similar number of prisoners as the other states you mentioned. My guess is that’s not the case.

  4. First, didn’t Maine raise the starting salary of a teacher back in 2006, and isn’t it now in the 30k range? Second, wouldn’t this study have been more effective if they had used the AVERAGE salary of a teacher in Maine? What is the sources of the data in this infographic?

    • Great comments everyone. I’ll try and get something up with the average salary of public school teachers. Even considering the starting pay of 30K, that still puts Maine with the dubious honor of spending roughly 13K more per inmate than per teacher. Out of New England states, Rhode Island spends the next closest to Maine at about 38K.

      @Chuck I’m going to look at prisoner numbers/crime rates compared to MA, CT, and RI. I would think they would have higher prison population and more crime than here. If that is the case, why are we cutting education when we are spending much more per prisoner than states who higher incarceration rates?

      Also I forgot to link the actual article which can be found here: http://www.educator.com/news/2009/teacher-starting-salary-vs-annual-amount-spent-on-inmates/

  5. That $44K figure seems high, but I don’t have an alternative one at present.

    As someone who spent my morning at the Somerset County Jail, conducting mock interviews for jail inmates for a program called WorkReady (preperation for work), I can tell you that it is far from being “The Ritz.” It is a modern facility, but there is no doubt that it’s a jail.

    Not one person I interviewed seemed interested in spending a day more than necessary incarcerated. In fact, recidivism is caused by factors more complex than “we’re making our jails too comfortable.”

    I will talk to my corrections “expert” about this.

  6. What about California? I would have loved to see a comparison that included California and the prison crisis there; average cost to house 1 prisoner abt 45K per year.

    California= dont educate’em , incarcerate’em!!


  7. Regarding your new data (especially the comparison with Massachusetts’ spending per prisoner), I would say that it suggests that Maine does not have enough prisoners to benefit from scaling, as Massachusetts does (comparatively speaking).

    But for those who think that the comparison to teachers shows that the Maine’s priorities are out of whack, I think the comparison is most unfair. No serious person that I know would question that teachers should be paid more. But teachers receive money in the form of salary and benefits. What is spent on prisoners is not salary to them. It is salaries to prison guards and administrators, it is the cost of healthcare for prisoners and prison staffs and administators, and it is the spending necessary to ensure that prisoners’ rights under the United States and Maine Constitutions are not violated, among many, many other line items in the state’s budget for prisons.

    Certainly there are programs for prisoners that some citizens would prefer not to fund. Perhaps the prisons could be run more efficiently, therefore lowering costs and allowing the state to spend money elsewhere. If that is so then it is entirely legitimate to identify those programs and efficiencies and have the discussion. But to break out the per prisoner cost from the state budget in a lump sum and then compare it to something of which people are universally in favor is unfair and perhaps even intellectually dishonest.

    • You raise another good question about this study. No where does it explain what expenditures per inmate consists of. That would make a large difference.

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