Bateman: Introducing Prisoniversity

By Oliver Bateman

Pitt stands to lose billions of dollars under Gov. Thomas “Tom” Corbett’s proposed budget… Pitt stands to lose billions of dollars under Gov. Thomas “Tom” Corbett’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12, which is only $50 million less than the total value of fireballing left-handed pitcher CC Sabathia’s contract. Meanwhile, funding for the prison system and state police will remain close to 2010-11 levels. While most of you are probably rushing to sign some online petition or get all G-20 in the streets (that’s so 2000-and-late, by the way), we’ve decided to put on our thinking caps and devise a solution to the problem that is sure to please even the angriest old men.

While engaged in the hard-hitting research for which we’re so renowned, we discovered that the Roman Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton, who looked like a cross between William Howard Taft and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, had arrived at an answer nearly a century ago. In one of his short pieces, he expressed concern about the swelling population of the British penal system. In “a society that will go on imprisoning for no reason at all,” he remarked, “it matters little whether our masters stoop to state the matter in the form that every prison should be a school; or in the more candid form that every school should be a prison.”

What a remarkable idea! Given that the education line item in the budget is shrinking, why not just consolidate expenses by combining the state-supported universities with the prisons? Since the main campuses of Temple, Pitt and Penn State can support a combined 100,000 or so students, adding the state’s 50,000 inmates to the mix wouldn’t present much of a problem.

Let’s start with housing and financial aid: Imagine the windfall that the universities could reap if they received a share of the roughly $18,000 to $31,000 that it costs to a house a prisoner for a year. With this kind of money, Pitt might be able to construct an adequate supply of housing options for upperclassmen. These hardened criminals are guaranteed moneymakers, and you wouldn’t even need counselors to help them apply for student loans. In fact, other than the restitution he might have to pay as a condition of his sentence, a prisoner would be likely to leave the Prisoniversity™ with a much smaller debt load than the typical undergraduate.

Next, consider another thrilling aspect of this arrangement: The diversification of the student body. Unlike the mostly middle-class kids who go to the state-supported universities, the ranks of Pennsylvania’s prison population are filled with many low-income unfortunates who found themselves entrapped by its draconian drug laws. Instead of engaging in half-hearted crusades for the abstract rights of a faceless multitude, idealistic students will now be able to receive a valuable education — not to mention brutal Baierl Rec Center beatdowns — while pursuing their studies at this “school of hard knocks.”

Speaking of classes, the Prisoniversity™ will need to develop some new course offerings to accommodate this influx of non-traditional learners. “Intermediate shiv-crafting” would make for an excellent elective, while “Learning the law through dorm room strip searches and in forma pauperis appeals” could supplement the Pre-law curriculum. Student-athletes can expect to face challenges from competitive prisoners who have spent years honing their skills in the exercise yard, with the teams that emerge from this union possessing the sort of otherworldly toughness demanded by our nation’s top-color sports commentators.

Once the Prisoniversity™ is in place, you’ll want to open your umbrellas as we begin brainstorming the next round of second-to-none solutions. Here’s a tantalizing preview of one such top-secret innovation: Why not do away with the state’s remaining entitlement programs, replacing them with a privately funded “Secret Millionaire Share-the-Wealth (If You Want)” plan? Instead of allowing those welfare queens and deadbeat dads to grow rich from the fruits of the godlike upper class’ scientific genius and business acumen, our working-class millionaires could redistribute their hard-earned dollars however they see fit. If these trickle-down heroes happen to believe that a Chihuahua ranch or a tanning salon is a better investment than a bunch of starving inner-city families, so be it.

The only things that Corbett shouldn’t consider doing are raising the state income taxes or finding a way to tax the Marcellus Shale drilling efforts. He made a solemn pledge to the millions of angry, “throw-the-bums-out” voters who elected him to keep these precious resources in the hands of the people who were the best at hoarding them, and he’s going to see his noble task through to the bitter end. After all, what did higher tax rates ever do for anybody? Other than drastically reducing levels of income inequality between 1965 and 1980, subsidizing the Second World War and (allegedly) putting a bunch of astronauts on the moon, that is.

Oliver Bateman is president of the Moustache Club of America, Pennsylvania Chapter, and he doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with this state. Sure, the commonwealth is losing its wealth, population and standing — but why worry about that when you have all those awesome flash fictions at to read?