“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 emphasising the pet-peeves of the Rightwing – 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 settting 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 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 to 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 equatation 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 leniant – 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.
Edited to add: The willingness of prisoners in California to do a life-threatening hunger strike also speaks against the idea that prisoners are a comfortable situation. Check out their demands.
Also: CBC ran a story about prison beatings.