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January 27, 2012

New major report documents costs and concerns with aging prison populations

Usprisons0112Human Rights Watch has today released a major new report on US prison populations titled “Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States." HRW visited nine states and 20 prisons to gather information for the report, which can be accessed via this link (along with a lot of companion materials). Here is an excerpt from the report's summary:

Life in prison can challenge anyone, but it can be particularly hard for people whose bodies and minds are being whittled away by age.

Prisons in the United States contain an ever growing number of aging men and women who cannot readily climb stairs, haul themselves to the top bunk, or walk long distances to meals or the pill line; whose old bones suffer from thin mattresses and winter’s cold; who need wheelchairs, walkers, canes, portable oxygen, and hearing aids; who cannot get dressed, go to the bathroom, or bathe without help; and who are incontinent, forgetful, suffering chronic illnesses, extremely ill, and dying.

Using data from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Human Rights Watch calculates that the number of sentenced federal and state prisoners who are age 65 or older grew an astonishing 94 times faster than the total sentenced prisoner population between 2007 and 2010.  The older prison population increased by 63 percent, while the total prison population grew by 0.7 percent during the same period.

Some older men and women in prison today entered when they were young or middle-aged; others committed crimes when they were already along in years.  Those who have lengthy sentences, as many do, are not likely to leave prison before they are aged and infirm. Some will die behind bars: between 2001 and 2007, 8,486 prisoners age 55 or older died in prison.

This report is the first of two that Human Rights Watch plans to issue on the topic of elderly prisoners in the US.  It presents new data on the number of aging men and women in prison; provides information on the cost of confining them; and based on research conducted in nine states where prisons vary significantly in size, resources, and conditions, offers an overview of some ways that prison systems have responded to them. The report tackles some policy considerations posed by incarcerating elderly inmates, and raises the human rights concerns that must be addressed if sound policies are to be developed for the criminal punishment and incarceration of older prisoners, both those who grow old in prison and those who enter at an advanced age.

Prison officials are hard-pressed to provide conditions of confinement that meet the needs and respect the rights of their elderly prisoners.  They are also ill-prepared — lacking the resources, plans, commitment, and support from elected officials — to handle the even greater numbers of older prisoners projected for the future, barring much needed changes to harsh “tough on crime” laws that lengthened sentences and reduced or eliminated opportunities for parole or early release.

Some prior related posts on older prisoners: 

January 27, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


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It's nice to see that now that inmates are getting too old and require even more money to take care of that you want to get rid of them for someone else to take care of. The people that came up with the long prison terms "government" should continue to take care of them, since they have been in prison all this time. Most of the don't have family to take care of them and if they do, probably won't be able to. I believe people should pay for their crimes, but they should consider the long term effects ahead of time, instead of making irrational decisions. No matter what, taxpayers will continue to pay for their care, so let the jails continue to provide the care.

Posted by: Jumeka | Jan 27, 2012 10:13:49 PM

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