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Seniors better off in jail rather than in nursing homes?

| Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Three people have e-mailed versions of tongue-in-cheek proposals to put senior citizens in jail and criminals in nursing homes.

It's easy to picture such a scenario, no matter how weird and far-fetched, when you consider recent news headlines.

"Corbett cancels construction of $200 million Fayette County prison"

"Westmoreland County jail subject of 17 federal lawsuits in past five years"

"Jail overcrowding could cost Fayette taxpayers $500,000"

"Auditor General urges state sentencing reform to reduce prison costs"

Twenty-seven state prisons house more than 51,000 inmates, costing Pennsylvania taxpayers about $1.9 billion this year.

That averages more than $37,000 per inmate per year.

That does not include related costs such as police, prosecution, public defenders, judges, parole officers, administrative paperwork and appeals.

Those figures do not count 63 county jails, plus municipal jails, and what it costs to operate those facilities.

The e-mails circulating on the Internet that suggest putting old folks in jail and criminals in nursing homes facetiously claim such a move would solve two societal problems, to wit:

Putting seniors in prisons would give them:

• Private rooms in a facility with an outside exercise yard and, sometimes, even gardens.

• Access to showers, hobbies and walks.

• Unlimited free prescriptions as well as free medical and dental care, wheelchairs, video monitoring and instant help in case of a fall or needed assistance.

• Clean bedding twice a week.

• Basic clothing including shoes and slippers.

• Laundry service.

• Bed checks every 20 minutes.

• Meals and snacks.

• Access to a library, fitness/weight rooms, spiritual counseling, educational programs and legal aid at taxpayer expense.

• Free radio, television, telephone and occasional in-house live entertainment.

• An appeals board to hear complaints.

• The American Civil Liberties Union to fight for their rights and protection.

As for criminals in nursing homes:

They would live in tiny, sometimes smelly rooms for which they would be charged $4,000 a month until their life savings are gone.

They would be left alone and unsupervised most of the time and would be encouraged to sleep as much as possible.

They would receive cold food, showers once a week and pills once a day to settle anxieties.

They would play bingo twice a day.

They would have no hope of ever getting out.

Cruel• Yes. Demeaning• Ditto.

The point is this: Prisoners seem to have more rights and receive higher priority than senior citizens living out their final years. Meanwhile, prisoners pose an increasing burden on taxpayers everywhere and Pennsylvania in particular, making adjudication and incarceration big business.

State Auditor General Jack Wagner recently pointed out that the state prison population grew by 500 percent from 8,243 in 1980 to 51,478 last year. Pennsylvania had the highest number of new inmates (2,122) of any state last year.

Only Texas (14) has more federal prisons than us (nine). And Pennsylvania has the fourth largest "death row" population in the U.S.

The estimated number of inmates in all federal, state and local jails, prisons and correctional institutions in the state exceeds 80,000.

That's equivalent to all of the men, women and children in Rostraver, Elizabeth Township, Monessen, California, South Huntingdon, Carroll Township, Donora, Charleroi, Monongahela, Fallowfield, Washington Township, Forward Township, West Newton and Bentleyville.

Thought du jour: For some, crime pays.

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