Modest Proposal #217

California spends an average of $47,000 per year on its prison inmates,[1] and about $9,000 per year on public school students.[2]  Meanwhile, over 30% of California's students do not graduate from high school. Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost California almost $42.1 billion in lost taxable wages over their lifetime.[3] Poverty is a factor in both dropout rates and crime rates in every state in America. [4]

Around the world, governments are fighting poverty by literally paying parents to send their children to school. In one Mexican community, parents are paid the equivalent of $30 each month their child has perfect attendance, and $145 if their child completes high school. Social welfare? Maybe. A mechanism to end poverty? Absolutely. Not having to keep children out of school to work or to care for their siblings, parents can support them, instead, to become educated and better their lives. These structures are designed to end poverty in one generation.[5]

Here is a modest proposal, not nearly as clever as Swift's, but not as cruel, either: Let's release anyone from prison who can prove they have a family that will welcome them back. Give that family some training and structure, and reward them with cash prizes for keeping their inmate out of trouble and on the right track. Find a new way for the inmate to pay their debt through restorative justice. For the cost of one year in prison, a family could turn around to the point they could start giving back. Spend the cost of the next year on that family to reward them for getting their kids to school on a regular basis to become literate, competent problem-solvers. And then funnel the budget for the rest of that prisoner's term back into schools.

See what that does to solve three problems at once: crime, dropouts, and poverty. See how that translates, in the future, to a better economy. See how that translates to stronger families, a safer society.

And just think of the reality TV it could spawn!