Institutional role reversal?

Published 7:47 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just my luck: Last week, I had not one, but two encounters with Mower County officials, whom I have criticized about the new jail and justice center.

The first occurred in the courthouse, where I ran into a stacked deck: The Mower County sheriff, two county commissioners and the county administrator.

I tried to escape by telling the Sheriff my bike was double-parked in a handicapped zone outside the law enforcement center, but she didn’t believe me.

The commissioners were also not about to let the opportunity escape to scold the old reporter for poking fun at them.

The county administrator surprisingly was the most friendly. “Just what is it he’s hiding?” I wondered to myself.

They each took their best shots. I thought I saw the sheriff fidgeting with her mace. One of the commissioners said he keeps a file on me. The county administrator said he thought the last column I wrote about the jail and justice center (No. 567 if you’re counting) was “funny.” Guess whom the commissioners are going to want to take on a snipe hunt soon?

Then I paid a visit to the Austin Elks Club and whom do I find standing outside the front door: Another Mower County commissioner.

I was batting three-for-four in the same day and it wasn’t even dark yet. Where were the other two?

I thought this poor soul was panhandling for spare change to help pay for the new $27 million jail and justice center.

He said he wasn’t, because the county expected to pay for it by collecting money from old guys who ride bikes — or something like that.

I told him, what I tell my ex-wife, “the check is in the mail,” and walked inside.

It’s tough being a know-it-all columnist, because quickly I discover I don’t know it all all the time.

For instance, there are some people who believe the new jail will be too comfortable for prisoners and once inside, they won’t want to leave the place.

Others say, it is going to become a hotel for illegals and should be renamed the Illegal Immigrant Assistance Shelter.

Don’t kid me: We’ve all heard these remarks or read Austin Uncut. Believe what you want.

Now my sources tell me there is another purpose for the new facilities and it strikes close to home: The new jail will become a nursing home.

Sort of a poor farm in downtown Austin.

The elderly and criminals are going to switch places. Criminals will be housed in nursing homes and the elderly in the jail, because of the similarities in the places and the track record for the new jails counties are forced to build: They can’t fill all their beds with offenders, while nursing home space for the elderly is at a premium.

As soon as grandparents read this, they are going to want to move back home with their children and grandchildren.

As my source explains the plan, elderly in county jails would have access to showers, the best in health and dental care, exercise and fitness rooms, cable TV, the Internet, rehabilitation services and their personal lawyer.

They would have constant video monitoring in jail, so they could be helped instantly if they fall or need assistance if an argument over Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune turns violent.

Bedding would be washed regularly and clothing would be washed and ironed and, most importantly, retuned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes and deliver medications and snacks to their cells.

To prevent the smuggling of contraband into the cells, family visits would have to be done by video conferencing for the safety of the grandparents.

Meanwhile, criminals sentenced to a nursing home would be confined to a tiny room, left alone, served cold food, allowed only weekly showers and pay $5,000 per month for their incarceration.

If they can’t afford it, they would have to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle in the day room.

Think about it: The similarities between jail and a nursing home are many. The only real difference is this: Jail is only a temporary address — if sentenced to serve time behind bars. A nursing home is a life sentence.