The elderly and aging in prison

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Over the past decade, the population in New York State prisons has decreased by over 20%.

  • Simultaneously, the population of incarcerated individuals aged 50 and over has increased by 64%, from 5,111 individuals in 2000 to 8,392 individuals in 2011.[i]
  • 14.5% of the total prison population is currently over the age of 50.

 

The elderly prison population will continue to rise as the use of determinant sentencing statutes increases. 

  • Determinant sentences have increased 195% in 10 years – from 10,296 individuals sentenced in 2001 to 30,341 individuals in 2011.[ii]
  • Currently 15.5% of those in prison are serving 20 years to life. [iii]

 

Longer prison sentences contribute to a decline in parole eligible hearings, ensuring that many individuals will grow old in prison.

  • There has been a 29% decrease in parole board hearings over the last five years; with only 38% approval for parole applicants. [iv]
  • Evaluated solely on the nature of their crime, incarcerated individuals are routinely denied parole, despite positive behavior during incarceration and a readiness for reentry.

 

Dangerous behavior diminishes with age. Incarcerated individuals aged 50 and over pose little threat to community safety.

  • The recidivism rate for incarcerated individuals aged 50 and over is 19%; less than half the recidivism rate for incarcerated 16-25 year olds which is 44%.[v]

 

The majority of individuals aged 50 and over who return to prison do not return for a violent offense.

  • Of the 2,302 incarcerated individuals aged 50 and over released in 2007, 29.5% returned to prison. [vi]
  • 18% returned because of a new commitment[vii]
  •  82% returned because of a parole violation—a minor non-violent infraction that includes failure to report to a parole officer, missing a day of work or staying out past curfew.[viii]

 

 Incarcerated individuals aged 50 and over are approximately 10 years older physically and mentally than their counterparts living on the outside. 

  • This is due to unhealthy lifestyles prior to and during incarceration such as substance abuse, poor diets and lack of health care.
  • Incarcerated individuals suffer from physical and mental idleness, repetition of daily activities, and a sedentary existence; an abnormal lifestyle that can stall a person’s development and speed up the aging process.[ix]

 

Incarcerated individuals aged 50 and over require greater expenses for medical and mental health care than younger incarcerated individuals do. 

  • Outsourcing these seniors’ medical care to local hospitals; supplying medical equipment for geriatric patients; and training staff to provide specialty care for the elderly have all increased the cost of incarcerating the aging.
  • It costs state taxpayers approximately $128,000 a year to house just one incarcerated individual aged 50 and over, 230% more than housing an incarcerated individual under the age of 50 at $56,000 a year. [x]

 

There are smarter more humane alternatives than incarcerating individuals aged 50 and over who pose no threat to our public safety.

As a society we must rethink the purpose of incarceration, steering away from retribution to focus on rehabilitation and prevention.  We must provide a fair alternative to incarceration such as parole, and ensure that incarcerated individuals have a safe and productive reentry into society.


[i] Bernstein, Dan. “UNDER CUSTODY REPORT: Profile of Inmate Population Under Custody on January 1, 2011.” Statistical Reports on Offender Population. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Apr. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/>.

[ii] Kim, Ryan Hu. “2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP.” 2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Sept. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2012/2007_releases_3yr_out.pdf>.

[iii] Bernstein, Dan. “UNDER CUSTODY REPORT: Profile of Inmate Population Under Custody on January 1, 2011.” Statistical Reports on Offender Population. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Apr. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/>.

[iv] Knapp-David, Theresa A. “PAROLE BOARD AND PRESUMPTIVE RELEASE DISPOSITIONS CALENDAR YEAR 2010.” PAROLE BOARD AND PRESUMPTIVE RELEASE DISPOSITIONS CALENDAR YEAR 2010. STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, 2010. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2011/Parole_Board_Dispositions_2010.pdf>.

[v] [v] Kim, Ryan Hu. “2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP.” 2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Sept. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2012/2007_releases_3yr_out.pdf>.

[vi] [vi] Kim, Ryan Hu. “2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP.” 2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Sept. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2012/2007_releases_3yr_out.pdf>.

[vii] [vii] Kim, Ryan Hu. “2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP.” 2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Sept. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2012/2007_releases_3yr_out.pdf>.

[viii] [viii] Kim, Ryan Hu. “2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP.” 2007 RELEASES THREE YEAR POST RELEASE FOLLOW-UP. State of New York DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION, Sept. 2011. Web. <http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2012/2007_releases_3yr_out.pdf>.

[ix] Belluck, Pam. “THE VANISHING MIND Life, With Dementia.” The New York Times. Feb. 2012. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/>.

[x] Fellner, Jamie. “Old Behind Bars.” Old Behind Bars. Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2012. Web. <http://www.hrw.org/node/104747/section/5>.

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