Aging Behind Bars: The Rise of the Elderly Prison Population

Aging Behind Bars: The Rise of the Elderly Prison PopulationAging Behind Bars: The Rise of the Elderly Prison Populationan excerpt from Aging Behind Bars:

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew 94 times faster than the overall prison population.

Between 1981 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 and over increased from 8,853 to 124,900. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 400,000, an increase of 4,400 percent from 1981.

Why The Elderly Are In Prison

The overall prison population has doubled during the past 20 years from 739980 prisoners in 1990 to 1543206 prisoners in 2010 due to truth-in-sentencing guidelines and “three strikes” laws.

The number of inmates serving life sentences quadrupled between 1984 and 2008; inmates who live a long time with life sentences will grow old and are most likely to die in prison.

The number of inmates sentenced to life without parole more than tripled between 1992 and 2008.

Government Fiscal Impact Care for aging prisoners is at least twice as expensive than for younger prisoners because this population:

  • Has more health problems and requires more medical care
  • Requires longer and more frequent hospitalizations
  • Needs care outside of the prison system, which represents 72 percent of all healthcare costs spent on aging prisoners

Managing the Problem

By the time a person turns 50, the likelihood of that person committing another crime has dropped precipitously. Only 16.9 percent of prisoners released at age 45 and older return for new sentences.

Policies that could reduce the number of aging prisoners include:

  • Granting conditional release for aging prisoners who pose little safety risk
  • Utilizing and expanding medical parole
  • Reauthorizing and expanding aging prisoner release programs

States could save an average of $66,294 every year for each released aging prisoner, which accounts for increased parole, housing and public benefits costs.

Impact of annual cost savings of releasing the average aging prisoner versus keeping them behind bars:

  • Low, $28,362
  • Medium, $66,294
  • High, $104,434.

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