The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report in 2013 about elderly inmates. The elderly inmate population has increased 1300 percent since the early 1980’s. The federal government and the states spend more than $16 billion a year to jail aging inmates. The report concluded that almost all inmates over 50 are not a threat to society. It costs $68,000 annually to imprison an elderly inmate. This is twice the cost to incarcerate inmates between the age of 18-50. The difference in costs is due to health care expenses rising dramatically every year for elderly inmates.
Many of these inmates are now in their seventies and eighties. The release of these inmates, many who were imprisoned for non-violent crimes and/or drug possession would not constitute a danger to their communities. An ACLU report found that states would save approximately $66,000 a year for each elderly inmate released from prison despite the cost of their care outside of prison.
Even with the high cost of health care in prisons, the medical care in many of our prisons and jails is inadequate at best. The physicians and their assistants are not trained for care of the geriatric prison population. Elderly inmates have more health problems and require more health care than young inmates. Inmates over seventy need longer and more frequent hospitalizations. On a personal note, I watched inmates stand in line outside in the rain for 30 minutes waiting for their medications. Several of these inmates were in their seventies and required canes to ambulate.
Many prisons have tiers for inmates over the age of forty. This policy has helped to protect older inmates from younger inmates, but has not eliminated this problem completely since all inmates use the chow hall and outside areas.
There are solutions for this growing problem. First, the criteria for parole and early release should give greater weight to the age and the health of inmates. Second, the criteria should take into account that elderly inmates have a low recidivism rate. A 2004 report found that federal inmates over the age of fifty had a 9.5 recidivism rate compared to 33.5 percent for inmates under twenty five. The recidivism rate for inmates over seventy was under five percent. By taking such appropriate measures, we can reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer’s money, and have a more humane society.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com