From Dwight Henley, White Lake Township:
Ithaca Superintendent Nathan Bootz and Clarkston Community Schools Superintendent Rod Rock have recently voiced their opinions over harsh educational cuts. Bootz even proposed that his district be turned into a prison. Bootz’s reasoning was that prisons receive $30,000 per prisoner each year, while schools receive only $7,000 per pupil. Rock suggests educational reforms for limiting the impact of educational cuts. Both Bootz and Rock have the solutions to educational cuts in their hands but fail to recognize them: Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) inefficiencies.
The MDOC’s yearly budget is approximately $2 billion, taking about 23 percent of our state’s general fund. Policy makers, MDOC officials, and Gov. (Rick) Snyder justify the ridiculous MDOC budget on a need to maintain public safety. Who would argue with maintaining public safety? But what these officials are doing is framing the issue in a manner that distracts citizens from our real problem and the obvious solutions. The problem is not about adjusting the prison population level, but the unnecessary cost to maintain the current incarceration level.
Bootz was right in pointing out the ridiculous cost of $30,000 per year per prisoner, but he is ill-founded on the true cost basis (prisoner computers, Internet access, exercise equipment, food, etc.) for the $30,000. Contrary to Bootz’s belief, Michigan law specifically prohibits prisoner’s Internet access except for educational programming. Prisoner exercise equipment is purchased through prisoner funds that are generated from prisoner store profits. The cost spent on meals is now only $1.97 a day for each prisoner and staff wages constitute a large portion of the $1.97. Though prisoner computers are purchased by the state, these computers offer programming that brings a $2 savings for every $1 invested — based on the drastic reduction of recidivism associated with these programs. The problem is not prisoner expenditures; it is staff expenditures and MDOC inefficiencies.
Over the past couple of years, the MDOC has reduced the prisoner population from 53,000 to 44,000, or approximately 17 percent. During the same time, the MDOC budget was reduced only 10 percent, from $2.2 billion to approximately $2 billion. Were this same correlation to continue, the MDOC could release every prisoner and still have $1 billion budget! So what are the problems? Can anything be done to cut the ridiculous MDOC budget while maintaining public safety?
Numerous means exist for reducing the MDOC budget while maintaining current prisoner population levels and public safety standards. First, our state officials are using the MDOC as a government subsidy, refusing to close the most expensive prisons when they are the only prison in the community. By closing Ojibway, Newberry, Alger, and Barraga prisons and reopening more centrally located prisons such as Muskegon, Ionia Temporary, Standish, etc. the state would save millions in transportation costs. Second, the MDOC does at least 20,000 prisoner transfers per year. Some statistics show that each transfer cost approximately $500 per prisoner. Despite this cost, many transfers are performed out of staff convenience, not necessity. Even at a cost of $300 per prisoner transfer, reducing transfers by 20 percent saves $600,000 per year. Third, the average hourly salary of transportation officers is around $25. Privatizing our entire prisoner transportation system would save millions, especially with a more centralized MDOC. Fourth, the number of MDOC administrative staff is excessively high, creating unnecessary layers in its bureaucracy. Removing unnecessary administrative layers such as regional prison administrators and unnecessary regulatory practices would save millions.
Fifth, the MDOC could completely privatize the prisoner store and eliminate numerous high-paying MDOC positions. Prisoners currently order food every three months from Access; orders could be placed monthly and all MDOC store staff could be eliminated. Sixth, MDOC could turn back its prisoner clothing practices, again allowing prisoner’s families to order clothes (for) their incarcerated loved ones. This could save $1 million or more each year. Seventh, the MDOC could designate 4-5 prisons as the only GED facilities, thereby increasing prison classroom sizes and reducing staff. Some MDOC facilities have GED classes with only 6-12 prisoners in each class period. Yet K-12 schools are now looking at 40-60 students per class. Finally, the MDOC could capitalize on its intra-institutional television programming station and offer college courses and Advanced Placement (AP) testing. These college courses are free (donated) and AP testing is free for prisoners. This would allow prisoners to earn college credits at absolutely no cost. The effect of such education is prisoners progressing from 40-60 percent recidivism categories into the 5-20 percent categories. So long as prisoner participation is properly incentivized, the increased number of educated prisoners could save tens of millions over a 5-8 year period.
Making the above changes within the MDOC would reduce the MDOC budget by at least $75 million per year within 5 years. These savings can plug the holes in our state’s budget and enhance our children’s quality of education. But unless our citizens start demanding that our governor and state officials implement the mentioned changes for a more efficient MDOC, wasteful MDOC practice will perpetuate and our children’s education will continue too suffer. Let’s solve the budget shortfalls in education by demanding a more efficient MDOC.