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January 4, 2009

The high costs of an aging prison population

The Richmond Times Dispatch has two strong articles in its Sunday edition about the challenges states face in dealing with an aging prison populations.  It also has this remarkable slideshow, which is a must-watch  Here are snippets from this main article, headlined "Growing old behind bars:"

Like the rest of the country, Virginia is coping with a growing number of aging inmates.... In 1999, Virginia had 2,015 prisoners 50 or older.  Today, there are almost 4,700, and by 2011, state officials expect there to be 5,057.

A drop in the number of paroles granted to inmates who remain eligible is a factor in Virginia's increasing number of older inmates. Truth-in-sentencing reforms that in 1995 led to stiffer, no-parole sentences for violent crimes are expected to contribute to Virginia's aging prison population in coming years.

At Deerfield, wheelchairs and walkers line aisles in the secured assisted-living dormitory, where it would be easy to confuse the frail residents with those in nursing homes.... Experts say substance abuse, little or no health care before imprisonment and the stress of living behind bars can leave a 50-year-old inmate physiologically 10 to 15 years older than his chronological age.

In general, older inmates require more supervision and medical and mental-health care, as well as special diets, mobility aids and special housing. Deerfield, Virginia's only prison dedicated to geriatric inmates and inmates with special medical needs, accommodates 1,080 inmates, 90 of them in wheelchairs and 65 percent over the age of 50.

This companion article, headlined "Expenses higher for geriatric prisoners," puts a partial price tag on some of these trends:

According to the [state corrections] department, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007, the annual cost per inmate at the Deerfield Correctional Center was $27,985, compared with $23,246 per capita systemwide and $16,000 to $17,000 a year at medium-security dormitory facilities.

A recent survey of 41 states and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons by Corrections Today found there were almost 125,000 inmates 50 or older, but fewer than 10,000 beds in facilities dedicated to older inmates. The Corrections Today report predicts the nation's older inmate population could increase tenfold in the next decade and the associated health costs could double that.

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January 4, 2009 at 01:24 PM | Permalink

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