Michigan Superintendent asks Governor Snyder to please make his school a prison

Nathan Bootz, the Superintendent of Ithaca Public Schools, sent the following letter to Governor Rick Snyder. It was reprinted in a recent edition of the Gratiot County Herald.

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

As we’ve discussed here in the past, Michigan is one of only four states that spends more on corrections than it does on education. And, believe it or not, the amount spent on prisons is actually growing this year, even as school budgets are being slashed, successful schools are being shuttered, and class sizes are exploding… I know that Bootz was employing a bit of satire to make his point, but he’s really not that far off the mark. Michigan’s public schools are, thanks to the efforts of Republican lawmakers, systematically being turned from places to prepare children for college, to places to warehouse kids until they can enter either the minimum wage labor pool or prison.

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  1. Mark H.
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I very agree with the point made by the good Superintendent: schools should be better funded than prisons. But his examples of the supposed comfortable life afforded to prisoners in Michigan is flat out wrong. The food, medical care, facilities, are all too often substandard. Think of prisoners, and think of hungry, ill fed people.

  2. Posted May 26, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with this analysis. Students keep getting less and prisoners keep getting more. We need to increase spending on students, not take their money away. That is the only way to increase the amount of talent in the State of Michiagn and hopefully to improve the economy.

  3. Brainless
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Just keep repeating this. Facts so obvious, they reach out and slap your momma.

    “…the most money per prisoner annually… in the union.”
    “…$30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner… $7,000 per student.”

    “…the most money per prisoner annually… in the union.”
    “…$30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner… $7,000 per student.”

    “…the most money per prisoner annually… in the union.”
    “…$30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner… $7,000 per student.”

  4. Edward
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Most teachers make more than prisoners, though. What if we had prisoners teaching classes? Think of the money that we’d save!

  5. JSam
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Well, while I don’t disagree that too many non-violent offenders are in prison, the superintendent is wrong about his idea of prison.
    There is NO cable tv. TV is brought to prison via cable where they are unable to bring it via antenna, but only basic local channels are available.
    The food cannot cost more than $1.25 per meal. On weekends there are 2 meals. There is NO computer lab, no internet. I don’t know if they can earn a degree in Mich but in Ohio they cannot.
    Weight room? Only the gang members use it because others would be beaten or raped.
    Church? Only a “meeting place” for certain groups…no religion going on there.
    The inmates work every day year around and earn less than $4 per month.
    I get really aggravated when people spin prison as an easy place to be. The guys there with no record and one msitake have to fear for their lives 24X7, no only from inmates but also from screwed up COs.
    Sorry but the stereotype of prison jsut pisses me off.
    Get the facts straight before you go off half-cocked and people believe it.

  6. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, JSam has a good point about prison not being a birthday party (didn’t you all see Oz?!?!) but I see what the Super was going for. My school in Detroit doesn’t have a library, doesn’t have enough books, old computers, no real gym equipment, etc.

    The numbers cited and repeated by Brainless are terrifying.

  7. Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Patti, it’s the free market at work. Your students are poor, therefore they should only get as much as they can contribute to society.

    You don’t have a library? That’s a fucking crime.

  8. Natalie Holbrook
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    We might be spending more annually per prisoner than other nearby states, but this money is not being spent to provide extra special amenities to people in prison in MI. I know men with severe and persistent mental illness who have languished in 23 to 24 hour solitary confinement due to either being undiagnosed or lack of appropriate care. I know the families of people who have died in solitary due to inappropriate health care services and/or mental health services and custody staff who were unwilling to intervene and do what was right.

    Prison is not a cake walk. Prison is harsh. I do not consider the superintendent’s letter to be satirical; it is ill-informed and factually inaccurate.

    In Michigan cable is paid for by the prisoner benefit fund; it is not paid for by the state. There is no internet. There are no high tech computer labs. People go to prison illiterate and come out the same way. You can only earn a degree if you have a family that can help you pay for correspondence courses. And correspondence courses cost a lot of cash. There is no access to “free” college. There are few programs (though some very good volunteer run programming does happen) other than the psychological programs that must be completed for a person to get paroled.

    The small privileges people in prison have are not what costs the state so much to keep them locked up.

    However, personnel costs a crap load. Many communities in this state rely on the prison in their midst for jobs…this is a problem.

    Right now the state is spending between 1.2o and 1.80 per prisoner for all three meals a day. Tell me what kind of food you get for that kind of money??I would hope that students would never be fed the soy based, filler-filled food people in prison are fed.

    If you really want to go after prison spending, then we have to go after the public’s perception of people in prison and crime. Recently, some CA prisoners were transferred to the private prison in Baldwin, MI. The people of Baldwin rejoiced at the incoming prisoners cause it meant jobs for a struggling community. We have to challenge this perspective and come up with viable job options that do not rely on the mass caging of human beings.

    Some of the most costly prisons in MI are in the upper peninsula, but those are not the prisons that are ever on the chopping block for closure, and guess why? jobs.

    Furthermore, if we are ever going to effectively de-populate prisons we have to talk frankly about institutional racism and the failed war on drugs. Our legislators never talk about race and class as they create policies that directly impact prison growth. This shit is huge, people and we, the pubic, are responsible for some of the conditions that lead to the over-reliance on prisons.

    If you believe in locking people up for being addicted to crack, or peddling crack, or stealing to feed their addictions (rather than treatment, education, community treatment for mental illness, etc) then prisons will continue to be over-utilized and the go-to for job creation in rural communities.

    I want to see prison used as a scarce resource that stops sucking out the cash of the general fund. I want to see more spent on education. This does not mean taking away the scarce resources prisoners have access to. However, it does mean reducing the population drastically and ultimately many hundreds of jobs would be lost or transformed into community, reintegration jobs.

    And just so you know the prison libraries are not all that. They are required by law to have legal libraries…this is useful to many, but it is not the kind of educational paradise inferred in the super’s letter

  9. Mark Higbee
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Natalie — Well put and very informative. Thank you. Yes, the super’s letter was factually wrong and it sought to exploit our society’s terrible ignorance about the inhumane conditions of our prisons. Thank you. – Mark

  10. JSam
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you.
    The prison I am aware of has one entire house for “mentally ill” inmates, heavily medicated and it includes Down’s Syndrome young men.
    This is what happens when he turn our backs on those who need help the most.
    These guys shuffle around all day in a stupor. They get no visits. And no one cares.
    This is the real America.

  11. Krissy
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Even though the letter may be “factually” wrong and that prision is not a cake walk (which I don’t think it is) that the letter may seem it out to be, there is STILL more money being spent on our prisioners than on our kids. No one can disagree with that! The letter was inteneded to get a point across that our kids are suffering and WILL suffer even more with additional cut backs.

    So if you disagree with the letter and the facts in it, thats fine, but DO NOT disagree with the intent of this letter! My kids and there future are more important! And hopefully all parents will agree with that fact!

  12. Home Grown
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    This is likely not a new idea, but every prison should have a garden in the yard where prisoners can plant, tend and harvest food to supplement their state porridge.

  13. Educationaloutrage
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Wow! Can we step off the soapboxes for a moment and pay attetnion to the real point the Superintendent was trying to make!!! Our kids (the future of this country) are suffering and being treated as criminals in that, advantages they have as citizens of this country are being repeatedly stripped away. That’s how I inferred the comment.
    I don’t concern myself with the inhumanities of the prison life, they committed a wrong, they pay the price.
    My concern is what our children are being robbed of, an education!
    No other CORE country (that I’m ware of) , directs less attention to their childrens future than does the US. What’s wrong with that picture? These children are our future, shouldn’t we throw everything we have at educating them to become viable contributors to our society?

    In closing, I’m not convinced prisoner’s are living the easy life, the bottom line is…I don’t give a damn! Education is POWER!!! Give the kids that and you reduce the chances of them requiring any future criminal funding.

  14. Natalie Holbrook
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    My comment was not just about factual inaccuracies–read all of it. You should give a damn that we spend $36,000 to 46,000 a year on people in prison and schools are completely inadequately funded. Prison–use it as scarce resource. Schools–fund them well to help alleviate the conditions that lead to people going to prison.

    Ultimately, it is critical to understand what that $36,000 to 46,000 gets spent on.

    Are the 95% of the people who come back to our communities better equipped to deal with life in the free-world after sucking up $36,000 to $46,000 per year for 1,2,3,4, 5 or more years? If our schools were better funded, would conditions have resulted that would have kept a few (or maybe even thousands) of the 43,000 people in prison in MI out?

    These issues are all entangled.

    Hence, the “soapbox” for trying to give just a glimpse of what really goes on in a system we spend so much state money on. I get the super’s point, i just think it would have been more powerful were it accurate. The stereotypes he used in his letter perpetuate public discourse that will not get at the roots of any of these problems.

  15. Mr. X
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    It’s appreciated, Natalie. Best of luck with your work.

  16. sandie
    Posted June 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    The prisoners at Macomb Correctional Facility and being fed on ninety-two cents a day. The money is spent on over paid guards that sit around on their buts all day. The only way the prisoners can kepp from going to bed hungry is if there families can spend money. The guards go around bragging how the the prison has food expense down to ninty-two cents a day. Dogs at the human society eat better than Michigan prisoners. I know they have to pay for there mistakes but don’t make it look like they get three squares each day, they don’t

  17. Posted June 19, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Can anyone confirm these numbers?

  18. Posted June 19, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I did find mention of one article, at the Detroit Free Press site, on how inmates at the Macomb Correctional Facility are only fed sandwiches, but it doesn’t look as though the article is still online. The mention of it that I found, however, included the following quote”:

    I don’t mind most bologna sandwiches; I would have to put a little mustard on these,” Sheriff Mark Hackel said. “This isn’t premium bologna. But it is edible.”

  19. Plarbs
    Posted June 22, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Pretty sad commentary that our educational systems don’t get more financial support from our state government. Same can be said about the fact that here in the UP many families rely on the cageing of human beings to provide jobs. You can argue about figures & their accuracy, living conditions in prison, an educational system dealing with financial problems and how this system is the key to a better future. Fact is we need a fully funded educational system. We do need some level of harsh punishment for people who break the laws the majority of our people subscribe to. So many problems, so many solutions. Keep chattering at each other. That will do a lot to solve issues such as these. Fact is the government of the people is no such thing. They have us right where they want us. All we can propose is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Point made by the Superintendant should be taken very seriously. Forget detailed accuracy. That’s not the problem. I can name a number of line items funded with our money that could be eliminated that would also eliminate the problems you discuss here.

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  1. By Nathan Bootz’s Genius Idea | drouhard.net on May 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm

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