Aging behind bars is not on anyone’s bucket list, but crime and punishment do not have an age limit for elderly inmates. An early release is an option in some cases, but an elderly prisoner’s early release can be a long and tedious process.
According to a recent study, more than 10% of people who are incarcerated in the United States are over the age of 50.
Geriatric offenders are people over age 55 who have committed a crime after they reach that age.
Some of the elderly people in prison have been there for most of their adult lives, with little hope of being set free.
Many are career criminals and have spent their lives in and out of the prison system. Others are serving life sentences without parole for heinous crimes they committed when they were younger.
Older prisoners are more likely to have been sentenced when they were younger for crimes they committed well before they were placed on elderly inmate statistics list.
What happens to elderly prisoners?
Have you ever been curious about what happens to prisoners when they get old? Just where do old prisoners go when they get sick and can no longer survive in the general prison population? Who foots the bill for their care and medical needs?
According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), it costs twice as much to maintain an elderly inmate than a younger prisoner. As the elderly inmate’s medical condition deteriorates the cost of the care needed increases.
Those costs are passed along to the taxpayers and can exceed $16 billion dollars annually for the approximately 265,000 elderly prisoners who are medically fragile in the United States.
Prisons were not designed with the elderly in mind. Basic human rights and the right to be treated humanely despite living in the confines of a prison must be considered for the aging incarcerated person.
So, should we consider the release of aging people in prison?
The release of aging people in prison is only considered under certain circumstances. When a person reaches the end of life and is frail, sick, and unlikely to be a threat to society despite their previous criminal history, then early release might be an option.
The release of these individuals would take a huge burden off the already overburdened prison system.
The release of elderly prisoners and the issue of aging in prison leads to questions with difficult solutions yet to be determined.
In our ever-changing world, we must often re-evaluate some of the long-standing ways we have done things in the past and reconsider the best way to address the problems that present themselves in today's world with compassion and understanding.
The difficulty comes in trying to do this while maintaining the integrity of our legal system.
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As we ponder the topic of early release from prison due to aging and fragile physical or mental health here is a little piece of trivia to close with:
On November 16, 1939, Al (“Scarface”) Capone, one of the most notorious and vicious gangsters in United States history was released from prison.
His wife appealed to the courts for his release, based on his reduced mental capacities.
While an inmate at the legendary Alcatraz, a late-stage syphilis infection destroyed his brain, rendering him confused, disorientated, and with the mentality of a twelve-year-old child.
He was released to a Baltimore mental hospital, and later to his home in Florida where he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 48.