Meme-y Monday: Prisoners treated better than the elderly?

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An illustration for a post about whether prisoners are really treated better than the elderly.There is a meme going around the internet that says:

“Here is some food for thought…We should place the elderly in prisons. They will get a shower a day, video surveillance in case of problems, three hot meals a day, access to a library, computer, TV, gym, doctor on-site, free medication if needed. We should put criminals in nursing homes. They have cold meals, lights off at 7pm, two showers a week, live in a smaller room and pay rent at $4,000 a month!!! It’s pretty sad that we treat prisoners better than the elderly.”

I’ve seen this quoted on facebook status who genuinely believe that prisoners are treated too well, and on facebook statuses of people who just think we need to treat seniors better. So I want to write about how this cannot possibly be just an advocacy for treating seniors better.

The message is a well crafted Republican/Conservative meme emphasizing the pet-peeves of the right wing – gym, computer access, medications, etc. Are the big concerns about senior citizen the lack of gyms and computers?  Probably not, but that doesn’t matter because the focus of the meme isn’t on caring for seniors, it is about coddling prisoners. It doesn’t say “it’s sad that we treat the elderly worse than we treat prisoners” it says it the other way around.

The meme doesn’t site any specific locations. I’ve seen it posted by people in Canada as well as in the United states, despite the vast regional differences between prisons and care for the elderly so I did a quick google search for information about prisons in my province. I found a couple of interesting articles.

A September 2012 article about a London, Ontario facility describes problems with a lack of surveillance and the resulting problems with inmate violence. It describes problems with lack of telephone access resulting in problems communicating with the lawyers, and it tells of an Ontario judge reluctant to send first time offenders to prison for fear for their safety there. Hardly the luxury setting described in the meme.

A Calgary Herald article talks about overcrowding in Alberta and Ontario women’s prisons resulting in four women being kept in a visiting room: “the room has no running water, no toilet facilities and no built-in cell call alarm system, nor does it offer the amount of living space, privacy and dignity that is available in a purpose-built cell.”

Another article talks about prison libraries being run by volunteers since 1996 and closed for a lack of staff. The John Howard Society has more information about the condition of prisons in Ontario. Standing out to me was this description:

The Committee was particularly disturbed by the complete lack of programs and services for the remand population. This is the case in all provincial correctional facilities as the Ministry of Community and Correctional Services’ policy is to concentrate all available program resources on sentenced prisoners. Remand prisoners have no access to the gymnasiums, the schools or the libraries in these institutions and cannot take advantage of any psychological/rehabilitative programming available to sentenced prisoners. For these prisoners, there is nothing to (sic) meaningful to do every day, all day long. At best, it amounts to warehousing, but, for those who spend long periods of time on remand, some for many months and even years, it could be characterized as cruel.

Half an hour of reading online doesn’t make me an expert on prison conditions and I don’t claim to be. What I do claim is that we need to be careful what facebook memes we pass on and we need to challenge the ones we see. We should ask ourselves where the meme applies to (Canada? The United States? Elsewhere?) and if the facts back the meme up. Most memes won’t present sources for their facts, and in some ways that becomes more insidious in implying that the idea is just common sense.

Sometimes causes like promoting the myth that prisoners are treated too lightly are mixed with other causes like the idea we need to treat our elders better, so people will pass them on because they agree with one side of the equation and they don’t think through the implications of the other side. This meme wasn’t really about the conditions of senior’s homes and it wasn’t real information about the conditions in prisons (or it would have mentioned which prisons its talking about). The meme was simply to reinforce the stereotypes that prisoners are treated to lenient – a stereotype with little to no basis in fact and that forgets that those in prison are also our brothers, neighbours, cousins, grandchildren, etc.

And none of this is to say that we shouldn’t be treating the eldery better than we do. But that’s another story and another post.

Also: CBC ran a story about prison beatings.

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10 thoughts on “Meme-y Monday: Prisoners treated better than the elderly?

  1. Well you looked up prisons in Canada, I don’t know anything about prisons in Canada, but obviously some people do post this knowing first hand experience that it is true. Yes, I have been to prison, yes my father is in an assisted living home, that’s what they call nursing homes these days. He pays a little over $1000 a month for rent and his insurance takes care of the rest, and that’s all out of his SSI check. for that $1000 plus a month, not including what the insurance pays for, he gets basic cable that’s so basic its almost free digital T.V. He has his own 8×8 room a couple he lived in the past, he shared a room for that price. Low rate internet, if it decides to work. no cameras in the facility, an old broke down hospital bed, meals worse than what they feed you in the army, or school food should I say, since by your tone you have obviously never served. Two nurses supposed to be in each wing at all times, with I don’t care attitudes, I report them all the time. A bath once a week. hair cut once a month, oh wait he has to pay extra for that. If his insurance didn’t cover the rest, he would be just lying there waiting to die. The funny thing is (sarcasm) This is one of the more higher end homes in the area, he was put on a waiting list and had to wait 3 years before we finally got him into that home, to come to find out it not so great. the nurses get him out of bed when they feel like it, if they get him out of bed that day, unless we request a specific time, and they have to put him back to bed by 4:30 pm.

    Now, I have been to prison and I feel I got treated better than him. I got three hot meals a day, unlimited access to commissary, shower anytime I wanted the separated by stalls, bathroom anytime I wanted separated by stalls, yes I shared a room with 50 other inmates, but we played games anytime we wanted, and full blown cable, access to library and internet abled computers, and all the collect calls we wanted, and lights out was at 6pm and lights on was at 6 am. each block had its own exercise area that was accessible anytime. Guards in the cell block and guards right outside the block, and cameras everywhere. All I needed were women and It would have been great.

    Yes I have heard and read about prisons in other countries that is basically survival of the fetus, kill or be killed kind of stuff. But this comment that everyone has been sharing, is not about Canadian or any other countries prisons, this post is about American prisons and American society, how it views the so called governmental system we have here. The views of how the American Society is so afraid of law suites that, they go as far to treat our prisoners like royalty, and how we treat our poor and middle class elderly like they are nobodies, just as if they are a dog waiting for them to just die. Todays society do not respect our elderly, this new generation is so disrespectful period, toward everything, the elderly, the American way of life, todays youth, if they continue to act as they are and as generations pass and get worse, America will no longer be America.

    You should really check all of your facts before you post an article, not just get half the facts. All you posted was what the Canadian prisons were like, not the American. You assume that because Canadian prisons are like this, the American prison system is be the same, no, the American prison system has the most relaxed, kind, and compassionate prison system in the world. Canadian people post these because they agree with the way the American system is and support our disagreement for it, not because they believe the Canadian prisons are this way. So step out of your sheltered life, stop hiding in your house and walk around in the real world and just take a look around and see things the way they really are, not the way you see things on the internet. Good Day sir.

    • So your argument is that some people who post the meme do so because they have personal experience that backs it up? Great, but they should post about their experience, rather than just the general meme.

      My point, which you seemed to have missed, is that people continue to post memes without thinking through the implications of them. You might argue that the meme is only about the USA but the meme itself doesn’t include reference to the USA and I’ve seen it shared by Canadians concerned about how elderly Canadians are treated.

  2. I totally agree with ChristyK…it is one of my pet peeves that we are so gullible & accepting of info as published & circulated via email, like the one about prisons & elderly. I live in the US & am VERY aware of deplorable prison conditions & question what planet James lives on…notice that he makes no mention of a specific US prison in his account. Please see below three reliable sources about US prison conditions…hope prison conditions are better in Canada.

    http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/prison-conditions

    http://www.hrw.org/united-states/us-program/prison-and-detention-conditions

    http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/usprisons0112webwcover_0_0.pdf

  3. Christy, are you a convict writing this from prison? Prisons shouldn’t be treating their convicts with any sort of luxury or compassion. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable place. It’s supposed to be rehabilitation, IE you never want to go back and will never commit another crime. However, because of the high number of repeat offenders, you have to believe that prison isn’t that bad.

    Are you not aware of the burden it costs to house a prisoner (murder, rapist, child rapist etc?) It is about $120K per year. Multiply that by 180,000 prisoners (600 per 100,000 general population) and you get a system that costs 18 billion dollars per year. Do you know how many social and wellness programs that can go towards?

    If anything, these prisoners should be put into working conditions where they generate revenue. Instead of us sending our manufacturing to china, we should be paying our convicts at a discounted rate. The reasons why? 1) it rehabilitates them by not letting them go stir crazy
    2) it gives them experience that can be used when they are released. The government can have direct transition programs into manufacturing plants.

    This will absorb the cost if not generate more revenue for the country than it does. This in turn can create better health care systems, infrastructure, and an overall better economy with positive net results for the general public.

    Why should we pay $600 a year to keep a criminal well fed and taken care of? Compassion? Tell that to the family who had their child raped and murdered. It’s not about vengeance. Its about earning your right to be treated under the constitution. People who commit crimes, especially violent ones, should not have the same rights that we free people have. When they killed that person, they took away their rights, in kind, they should be happy they didn’t get capital punishment.

    The other thing is, most violent criminals cannot be rehabilitated due to the different wiring of their brain, where they lack a moral compass and would not hesitate to rape or kill you.

    The bottom line is, prisons should not be costing canada or any state money. Prisoners should not be treated better than the average canadian in terms of health care, food, and housing.

    If you want a solution, divide the prison system into tiers. The non-violent criminals act as guards over the violent ones and get their own cell block.
    The violent ones i.e murderers, rapists, etc are housed all in the same room on the floor. Use the prisoners as a manufacturing plant for discounted products, where they get paid minimally, at the same rate as they do in china. Once you do that, you’ll have a functioning prison that doesn’t cost money to the system. You’ll have people actually rehabilitated because prison will be a place they don’t want to come back to.

    lastly, your article is garbage and sounds like one of those leftist idiots who fights for compassion for those who don’t have it, without ever losing something to these animals in prison. Its kind of like a white person in the 1800’s telling a black person it aint so bad.

    • You need to check the definition of the word ‘rehabilitation’. Because your entire point is destroyed by the fact you clearly don’t know what it means.

  4. While I agree with the premise of your article and appreciate some of your sentiments (since my husband IS in prison so I know full well the conditions), your assumption that this meme is a well crafted Republican/Conservative message is a bunch of hogwash. Please site your resource. From my perspective it seems just another a bleeding heart liberal cry for social reform to get the government to handout more freebies and this time to the elderly. The last time someone posted this meme, this was my response based on current personal knowledge: “In prison, they’ll be yelled at for no reason, humiliated just for the sake of it, in danger from thugs everyday, not allowed to see loved ones except through a video screen or sitting at a table for a couple of hours once a week, not allowed to get anything in the mail but letters if anyone cares to send them, and forcibly isolated for several hours. They can’t have decorations in their shared cinderblock cells, have no access to the internet or music, and must watch whatever TV program the prevailing group (usually the thugs) want to watch. They are constantly subjected to foul language, sarcasm, and disgusting humor. Their mattress will be paper thin and urine stained. They will be allowed one blanket and one pillow. Their one tiny window will be just a sliver. There will be no quiet at night as other inmates like to stay up and yell. They will have to share a smelly bathroom with 20 other inmates, and they will have no social interaction with anyone of the opposite gender. If they do have medical issues, they must wait at least a week, if not longer, to be bused to see a medial professional at some other facility who could care less and who will do the absolute minimum to get them by. Yeah, prison is where I want MY grandma! NOT.”

  5. Thank you, you are completely right about the source of this meme and it’s inaccuracy! As well as the lac of thought put into sharing such posts.
    Thanks again Shawn.

  6. Agree with the basic point, people in the UK are just reposting this as if prisoners get lots of free time, games, TVs, etc. This simply isn’t true. The warders are so poorly paid they want prisoners to be banged up all day very day. Shared cells mean crapping in front of your cell mate. Young men do not learn how to cook, clean or in any way be rehabilitated as adults which perpetuates the problem.
    Just one small correction, there are a number of instances when ‘to’ is written when you mean ‘too'; it detracts from the authority of the piece.

  7. My mother died in a nursing home. Her experience matched this exactly. If any nurse stood out as exemplary, which really meant he or she was doing his or her job as one might expect from a professional, that nurse was considered to be a saint. They did not last long as they inevitably got better jobs in hospitals.

    Most staff treated the residents with barely concealed contempt when family members were present, and that was probably their best behavior. Residents were neglected and abused. Attempts to remedy any of this were met with scorn and obstruction. The conditions were deplorable. We got all this for a small fortune, money that should have paid for our retirement, something that is now out of reach.

    I sympathize with the plight of prisoners in the USA. I am a left leaning liberal. But this issue gives the right wing a big free sandwich of their favorite kind of red meat, and the way they work it makes it another great way to tempt otherwise decent folk to join them in something.

    It’s interesting that the post here seems exclusively about the messenger and not the message. Something needs to be done about the conditions nursing home residents live in here. The message is correct, at least concerning nursing homes, and the versions of the original post I have seen devote 7/8 of the content to that message, with a few lines thrown in at the end to titillate the base.

    The right wing loves to jerk their knees every time they see one of our messages, no matter how valid our points. Do we have to match their knee jerk methodology?

    • My point is that there is no evidence at all to suggest that your mother would have been better off in a prison. Everything you described about nursing homes applies to them too. There is often neglect, abuse, and contempt for the residence. On top of this there is overcrowding and other problems. So the meme is an outright lie to suggest that she would have been better of in prison. My focus is the message, not just the messengers.

      Yes, we need to improve nursing homes. We definitely, definitely need to improve nursing homes. There are plenty of good ways to highlight the issue of needing to improve nursing homes without creating the straw-man of “wonderful prisons.” We need to do more to highlight the need to improve nursing homes – and situations for seniors overall. One of the many problems I’ve seen in Ontario is that the only way for people to qualify for subsidized rates of long-term care is for the couple to get divorced. Otherwise their entire family income will go towards paying for the person in care, and the other person will have nothing to live on. It is incredibly unfair to ask seniors to do that.

      What would a good improve the senior’s care meme look like? Possibly there could be one about how we are failing to respect our elders or about the problems of elder abuse. Or one with a picture of a room in a nursing home and the question of whether this is where one wants to spend one’s last days?

      Or perhaps a meme should explain a bit about the need for better government funding or regulation of senior’s homes? I suspect we need better pay for nurses and regulations to make sure nursing homes are not understaffed. I suspect though that a lot of the people who support the idea that prisoners have too cushy a place to live would freak at the idea of more government regulation, funding, and of better paying staff, even if those are things that would help improve nursing homes. The beauty of the prisons-are-better-than-nursing-homes-meme from a right-wing standpoint is it gets to bash something they hate, while appealing to the love people have for their elderly relatives without actually offering any real true solutions!

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