10 August 2008|
1. Both are compulsory. Obviously, prisons are designed to be compulsory punishment. Yet public schools, especially for poor kids, can also be de facto imprisonment. As schooling is required by law, and parents are often geographically, financially, or in some other way limited to their local public school, students end up being forced by law into the dictated state-run institution. It is worth mention that vouchers, which PI happens to support, would free parents and students from the lack of choice in schools.
2. Both are overcrowded as the result of poor public policy. In the case of prisons, the drug war and other misguided prosecutions of nonviolent offenses has unleashed a torrent of "criminals" into the prison system. In the case of schools, the aforementioned herding of young Americans into local public schools creates the same result: overcrowding. The intelligent policies to reverse both problems would be the decriminalization of nonviolent offenses and school vouchers.
3. Both are prone to violent insurrection. Both prison breaks and school shootings occasionally but not infrinquently stir public fear on the nighly news. When either occurs, blame is usually spread liberally, and often misplaced. The state should be at least partially faulted for its overweening presence yet inability to effectively maintain peace. Insurrections can be prevented when prisoners are correctly controlled; school shootings can be prevented when kids are effectively taught right from wrong.
4. Both are poorly administered and inefficient. Excessive bureaucracy and centralization plague both institutions. The heavy state regulation of American K-12 education has enjoyed a well-documented history of failure, wasting money and resources to little benefit to the students and parents. Prisons fare little better. Countless cases of prison rape are reported each year at federal penitentiaries, yet prison officials do little to try curb the problem.
5. Both assume one solution for every individual. US justice policy incorrectly assumes that incarceration will solve many social problems, such as drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc. The US Department of Education assumes that federal and/or state government standards should apply to every student. Both are incorrect assumptions. Nonviolent and white-collar offenders should be rehabilitated; parents and kids should have choice and options in education. One size does not fit all.
6. Both are unnecessarily expensive to taxpayers. Because politicians generally fear comprehensive solutions to problems, they end up throwing money at whatever doesn't work right. This is true to disastrous effects for both prisons and public schools, to whom the allocation of taxpayer largesse is tantamount to buying Italian leather loveseats for the deck of the Titanic.
7. Both harm American competitiveness by keeping Americans from being productive. In prisons, felons can't vote, even if they are nonviolent and otherwise productive citizens. In schools, poor education inhibits upward mobility, encourages dropouts and breeds criminals.
8. Both are institutions often internally ruled by intimidation and violence. The toughest, most callous inmates become the leaders of the prison. In prison slang, these individuals have “the keys to the car.” Likewise, in public schools, the toughest students become the leaders of the school. They are the “bullies” or “jocks.” Both of these prototypical ‘alpha males’ are the de facto lords over their peers. They are the punishment dealers and the trendsetters.
9. Both are ruled by cliques. The clique provides security in a scary and uncertain world. It also allows people to form a lasting bond between peers with similar interests or backgrounds. In prison, cliques are formed between the races. A member of a clique knows that he will be protected by his fellow associates if he is accosted by someone in a rival clique. Cliques commonly form in public schools as well, although not always because of race. Peer groups are often formed on the basis of many different characteristics, but are equally as influential in social affairs.
10. Both have tenure regulations not conducive for improvement. In public schools, tenure rules make it nearly impossible for schools to terminate incompetent teachers or deans, let alone mediocre ones. Prisons have the opposite problem. The average tenure of a prison chief is 2.4 years, which isn’t nearly enough time to pursue the real reform which the US correctional facilities desperately need.
The above work is the opinion of the authors, and not necessarily that of the Prometheus Institute.