A new report released this month outlines a problem in U.S. prisons: the aging of the prisonor population. The population of aging and elderly prisoners in U.S. prisons greatly expanded over the past three decades, according to a report published June 13 by the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to the report, more than $16 billion is spent annually by states and the federal government to incarcerate elderly prisoners. In 1981, there were 8,853 state and federal prisoners age 55 and older. Today, that number stands at 124,900. Due largely to higher health care costs, older prisoners cost around $68,000 a year to incarcerate, twice the $34,000 for the average prisoner. The report’s author says the number of elderly prisoners could reach 400,000 by 2030 at current trends, accelerating the issue even more.
The report suggests the growth of the aging prisoner population is a result of strict sentencing laws enacted during the 1980s and 1990s. During that time, many states created statutes that triggered long sentences — including life in prison — for repeat offenders. Anti-drug statutes and “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which dictate that inmates serve the majority of their sentences before being paroled, also led to a sharp increase in the number of inmates growing old in prison.
The report recommends different forms of parole, including “medical parole,” or a transfer to community corrections for aging prisoners that pose little community risk, based on credible risk and needs assessments.
To read “At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly,” click here.