Who's More Important, Teachers or Prison Guards?

It's important for Utah that we continue to raise the salaries of our public school teachers across the board. But another issue has come up that seems to be more important. A far higher percentage of prison guard positions remain unfilled in Utah than do school teachers. Which group is more important? Which group do we fund first? Can we fund them both in the next legislative session?

Both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News reported yesterday that the Utah State Prison is terribly understaffed. The Trib said
More than 25 percent of jobs at the Utah State Prison are unfilled, putting loads of overtime on employees and even forcing the warden to wear a uniform to keep watch on inmates.
DesNews reported
"We're on the verge of crisis," says Tom Patterson, state Department of Corrections executive director. "We have to fill those spots. I worry about how long we can go at this rate. It frightens me."

"This is temporary life support for heaven's sake, what we're doing here," said Capt. Matthew Huber, who oversees scheduling and deployment.
Teachers are important, and we need to pay them more than they're getting.

But I think public safety is more important, in the short run, than increasing teachers' salaries. Teachers help to decrease the population of the next generation of criminals, but the current generation has me more worried right now.

I think that as a state we could probably afford to do both, but the first priority seems to me to be increasing the wages of Utah prison guards.

How does $10/hour for everyone sound?


  1. I think we also need to analyze why we have the recent surge in packed prisons. Have people become more evil, or has our government outlawed more things?

    I would love to see a study done on what the reasons are for all these criminals being locked up. You know, a breakdown of what crimes each committed in order to land them in jail.

    Anybody know of a report like that that's been done?

  2. You have to pay for the good studies on the issue Connor references (see here). Utah's prison population increase has much to do with the general population increase, as well as the demographics of this increase.

    The majority of inmates are incarcerated either directly or indirectly (mostly indirectly) due to substance abuse. That is, people commit other crimes to support their substance abuse habit or as a result of such habits. But the new push to treat people for their substance abuse problems rather than incarcerating them aims to reduce the expansion rate of prison populations (see here), at least for non-violent offenders.

    The rate of prison population increase has actually leveled off. It increased far more rapidly during the 80s and early 90s. The problem now is retaining prison guards. The state isn't paying what county and local corrections agencies are paying. So the state is constantly bleeding personnel at a faster rate than it can hire.

    While this issue parallels the teacher issue, it is far more closely tied to pay. Teachers may need to relocate to other states or switch professions to get higher pay. Corrections officers can get higher pay without relocating or switching professions. The choice is really quite simple: find a way to pay these people the going rate or else loose them. It's Econ 101 stuff.

  3. The disparity between state and local pay has been going on in dozens of other states (including our neighbor to the west) for most of the decade. State law enforcement agencies have become little more than cadet factories, churning out recruits that jump ship to a city or county paying double what they currently earn. Unfortunately, it's much harder to raise pay scales at the state level than at the local level, especially to play catch-up.

    It's not just law enforcement either. Judicial pay has been stinking for a long time too and has failed to retain quality lawyers who should be on the bench. When we're failing to adequately fund a system of law and order during a time of supposed budget surpluses, I find myself wondering what's going on up at Capitol Hill.

  4. What's going on at Capitol hill?

    Real issues Jesse! School vouchers, global warming and a host of other things that will make a real difference to the quality of life we enjoy here in Utah.


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