The Elderly in Prison and Recidivism

This week’s readings concern a topic that I have never really discussed in any previous Criminal Justice course before: the aging prison population. As a result of the movement to get tough on crime, prisons are now faced with a growing elderly prison population. The article “Aging Prisoners” makes mention of two specific causes borne out of the tough on crime movement that have lead to this phenomena. Truth-in-sentencing, the first of these two causes, put an end to indeterminate sentencing, and required convicts to spend a minimum amount of years in prison closer to the sentence they received. In any case, the time offenders spent in prison was lengthened dramatically. Another reason for the increase of the elderly in prison was the overall increase in length of prison sentences. The article specifically mentions three strikes laws, which can put offenders away for life upon being convicted a third time in some states. Long-term imprisonment has become the preferred method to combat crime, and as a result, states are becoming increasingly burdened with caring for an aging prison population.

Prisons are not nursing homes, and are ill-equipped for dealing with a population that requires such care. There is little room in corrections’ budgets to care for the sick and young, much less the elderly, who are susceptible to an array of physical and mental ailments as they age. When resources are scarce, and prisoners approach ages where their strength and mobility deteriorate, are they still at risk for recidivism? Does punishment matter at this point?

My questions were answered in the prison letters I read addressed to Bill Ryan concerning House Bill 4154. HB 4154, from what I gather, allows for inmates, aged 50 or over, having served twenty-five years or more to petition the court for release. Reading the letters, the bill is pretty generally well received among inmates. However, some inmates expressed concern at the minimum age of eligibility. Offenders, he wrote, at any age who have served that long of a sentence are unlikely to recidivate. One prisoner, Dinah Hufsteder, pointed to petty criminals as the sources of constant recidivism, not the recipients of lengthy prison sentences. These are the people, Hufsteder suggests, that should be eligible for early release, as they are unlikely to commit another offense. In any case, Illinois needs to move faster, as prison budgets are slimming. Keeping the elderly in prison is a costly task.

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2 Responses

  1. I really hope that House Bill 4154 passes and that more lifers who want to be rehabilitated have the opportunity to do so. It really would alleviate the overcrowding of prisons as well as the mental and physical health of these people who have been in prison for over 20 years. The recidivism rate is so low, but I would actually love to see the creation of rehab centers for specifically the elderly. Here is where they can receive the treatments and medications that weren’t available in prison, while freeing the prisons of these “elderly problems” that drain their funds. The ex-inmates wouldn’t have to live at the rehab cneters, but they could just be there if they need them or have nowhere else to go. The tax dollars (I believe it was $67,000/yr/inmate) that would have been used to keep these people in prison until their deaths could now be transferred to the maintenance of these elderly rehab centers, who’s patients that have benefited from the help there could actually give back to society.

  2. […] Another report states: “The incarceration of older prisoners, who represent the smallest threat to public safety but the largest cost to taxpayers to imprison, exemplifies failed public policy that favours imprisonment over more cost-effective alternatives.” […]

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