Locked up and growing old
There are many reasons why living in prison can turn a person gray. But perhaps the most obvious – growing old – is the one to be most concerned about.
Aging men and women are the fastest-growing population in U.S. prisons, a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found, and prison officials are ill-equipped to provide the appropriate level of care.
That’s not only a humanitarian issue; it’s also a budgetary crisis.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the cost of confining prisoners older than 50 are about double the annual cost for younger inmates. Those expenses only go up with age and the illnesses that follow.
Though prisoners older than 65 or suffering from terminal diseases can apply for early release, the Justice Department inspector general’s report found last year that the Bureau of Prisons’ compassionate release program had been “poorly managed and implemented inconsistently.” Most inmates awaiting early release end up dying behind bars.
Between 2007 and 2010, the number of US state and federal prisoners age 65 or over grew at 94 times the rate of the total prison population, HRW’s report found. Those numbers would continue to rise, the release warned, unless the Justice Department reformed “tough on crime” policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences.
“US corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars,” said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, in a statement. “How are justice and public safety served by the continued incarceration of men and women whose bodies and minds have been whittled away by age?”