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September 8, 2010

The story of prisons becoming nursing homes in Virginia

This new piece in the Washington Post, headlined "Virginia's prison system struggles to handle the surge in elderly inmate," provides a look into some of the consequences of an aging prison population in Virgina. Here are excerpts:

Since the General Assembly abolished parole for the newly convicted in 1995, the number of elderly inmates in custody has soared. In 1990, there were 900 inmates over the age of 50. Now there are more than 5,000. Deerfield Correctional, which once housed 400 inmates, has become a 1,000-bed facility with a long waiting list. "We're left trying to be both a nursing home and a prison," said Keith Davis, the warden.

Scrambling to handle the surge, the state has built a 57-bed assisted living facility at Deerfield, with rows of hospital beds filling a room the size of a high school gymnasium. They've added a special meal for the facility's legion of diabetics, and they've hired nurses to keep round-the-clock watch on the infirmary's 16 inmates.

It's an expensive endeavor: It costs $28,800 annually to house an inmate at Deerfield, compared with the $19,000 it costs at most of the state's medium-security prisons....

Under the 1995 Truth in Sentencing law, two types of inmates can still be paroled: prisoners over 60 and those convicted before the law took effect. That makes Francis eligible for parole. But since George Allen (R) was elected governor in 1993 with a promise to abolish parole, offenders have spent significantly more time behind bars. Fewer than 5 percent of inmates charged before 1995 have won reprieves since Allen's initiative passed, compared with 42 percent of eligible inmates who were granted parole in the years preceding the change in law.

Those over 60 face even slimmer odds. Only 15 of 1,000 eligible elderly inmates have won release. That record has led to a class-action lawsuit against the state. "The law says these inmates are eligible for parole, but the Parole Board is acting as if they're not," said Bill Richardson, an Arlington attorney representing 11 inmates.

State officials say the low parole rate reflects the fact that most nonviolent criminals have been released over the past 14 years, leaving mainly harder-core criminals behind bars. "These inmates might be old, and they might no longer pose a threat, but this is the price of committing a heinous crime," said Rick Kern, director of the Virginia Sentencing Commission, which oversees state sentencing guidelines.

The trend in Virginia foreshadowed a national trend. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of inmates 55 or older in state and federal prisons grew 76.9 percent, from 43,300 to 76,600, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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September 8, 2010 at 08:16 AM | Permalink

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Comments

What is the alternative? Release is what is being promoted by these left wing extremists.

Grandpa, this is your new roommate at Shady Acres. He was in Supermax after raping and killing a couple of prison guards. If he wants your fruit cup, you should just give it to him.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 9, 2010 9:16:21 AM

How amusing that we always speak of rape and murder in connection with prisoners and parole...one might almost think that our prison population consisted of such offenders. Shame, I imagine, that it doesn't.
Oh, and as an aside, I spent 120 months in Federal Prisons and so know some small amount about them and their populations.

Posted by: Throsso | Sep 20, 2010 4:43:51 PM

I'm sure that there is a lot of speculation when it comes to what actually happens in a prison, but anytime there is talk of elder abuse it always raises attention.

Posted by: Phoenix Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer | Mar 28, 2012 5:15:32 PM

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