Life without parole and Elderly Prisoners

The population in prisons are aging due to longer sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes rules, truth in sentencing laws, and get tough on crime reforms of 1980s and 1990s. When I read articles like the “Life without Parole” about the two teenagers that brutally murdered a stranger, I think that they will probably be in jail for the rest of their lives. They will enter prison under twenty years old and they might never leave. They will live inside prison walls throughout their entire adult life and they will progress into their old age in prison. They will be arthritic and incontinent, greying and crippled and they will have never gone to college, had a job, or traveled. After 60 years of imprisonment, after a lifetime spent in jail, is it assured that a criminal will not harm another person?

I don’t believe that people are inherently evil, but instead what people do is a product of their past. So it really depends if a person can be assuredly rehabilitated. Likewise, our opinions are based upon our experiences. A person whose family was brutally murdered might feel that the murderer should be locked up forever, no matter how long it is and no matter how old and crippled the prisoner becomes. I can identify Continue reading

Articles regarding elderly inmates

In reading the articles on aging prison populations I was not surprised to see that average cost per elderly inmate was around $67,000 annually, which is about three times the cost of a younger prisoner. I was surprised however, when I realized after reading that inmates do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid thus placing the burden on state taxpayers. As mentioned in one of the articles concerning the growing number of elderly inmates to younger ones, it seems are spending is soaring to maintain a geriatric prison population that is less then likely to recidivate and is essentially diverting attention from younger more efficient and active criminals. Due to the overpopulation in some prisons, capacity to maintain newer criminals is becoming an exacerbating issue not only for the state but for general well being in society. I personally would rather parole an elderly inmate who runs up costs for the state then to let a younger Continue reading

Elderly Release Debate

Placement of elderly individuals is becoming increasingly difficult as less space is available. So many prisons are full because the elderly take up a high percentage of convicts in prison. This is due to no parole or life convictions. As a result, money is being spent in order to build new penitentiaries for all those found recently found guilty. Money is also being spent in order to take care of the elderly convicts. I found these articles extremely eye opening. The fact that so many elderly are in prison, some not receiving the proper medical attention, is an issue. There is another issue/debate revolving around the idea of early release. Should elderly prisoners be released early in order to make room for the dangerous convicts? While reading the Human Watch Report titled, “The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole For Child Offenders in the United States” I came to a conclusion to this question. Can rehabilitation really occur? What is the difference between child offenders and murderers? I do not believe a child offender can really reform. I believe they can suppress their desires, but not fully control it. Therefore, elderly child offenders, rapists, etc. should not be considered for early release in order to free up prison cells. Yet, if a man or woman who is considered elderly (it differs from state to state) has shown a change and is ready to re-enter society, they shouldn’t be denied. People can reform and change, however they need to be in good condition, psychologically. I don’t think that child offenders can ever really be reformed because their condition is mental, as opposed to people who rob banks or decide to make a bad choice once in their life years prior. It is $33 for a normal prisoners medical expenses. However, an elderly person requires $100 dollars a day for expenses. So what can be alternatives to this problem? There can be a separate court systems for geriatrics just like there are for juveniles. I thought it was very interesting how 16 states already have separate housing for elderly inmates. Another option I thought would work, would be to release older inmates back into society to families or to a community support system. This way they have people to rely on for help and so they are not alone and homeless. If they see the good in people in the world, they can fully rehabilitate and live in society once more.

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.

The Struggles of an Elderly Prisoner

I believe that one of the most difficult tasks when dealing with elderly prisoners has to be the fact that so many of them are in poor states of health. A couple things factor into this, including poor health behaviors before being incarcerated, alcohol or drug abuse in the past, smoking cigarettes, lack of inactivity. All of these amount to countless problems when dealing with the older inmates. They must be given special medical attention depending on their types of needs which range from diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, vision problems, and other common geriatric medical issues. This means that many depend on medications in order to help them stay alive and well. Now at first it may seem like no big deal that a prisoner has to take many medications to function properly, but what if that prisoner is going to be released soon. Odds are that he or she will not be able to access the same type of medications and treatment that they receive while in prison. Thus once they are released they will go back to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating, which could lead to trouble with the law once again and back in prison.

Sonia’s Response to the Elderly in Prison and other thoughts

This week’s readings were fairly depressing. To begin, geriatrics in general in this country is not a focus of medicine as very few doctors choose to specialize in it. The principle stays accurate when applied to institutions like prisons and nursing homes as the populations of aged adults is overlooked and pushed to the back. I actually don’t know how I feel about the Elderly Sentence Adjustment Bill as there can be arguments for both sides but I would lean towards supporting the bill because of my letters. It’s so different to read the article, “Studying Older Offenders” engaging plenty of statistics and a letter from someone pleading for their life back. Although the article was beneficial in providing an overview of just how many prisoners over 50 are flooding the prisons, there is not much of an argument to be made in regards to early releases other than lack of adequate resources to support them all. I don’t think there should be any early release that is dependent solely on age, but rather age should be the factor that lets one be considered—then there should be some kind of formula comparing the amount served to the amount left and the particular crime. There are so many factors to be considered, and I understand that already there are not enough resources to accurately investigate every individual and their motives and personalities, but it is their life. Just reading one of the letters sent shivers down my back as a woman was 22 when she was convicted of 2 armed robberies and has just finished 20 years of a 90 year sentence. She has obtained multiple degrees while incarcerated and taken advantage of every program offered. By the time she is technically released, she would be 112 years old and that is so scary to think about. She is hopeful and ended her letter very powerfully stating that she is a new woman who would one day like to be a mother and the daughter, aunt, and sister that she could not be before. So, it is fairly clear that she has made an attempt to reform, and although nobody knows if she would be tempted to commit robbery again, it is important to at least consider her life as significant and important. It is not so much that I think the system is wrong to have even put her in prison; I think the system is under too much stress to give all prisoners a chance to be reevaluated accurately. There are so many steps and so many failures that hopelessness seems very understandable as I saw in another one of my letters.
The article, “Adjustment to Prison Life” explained the situation of new elderly offenders and that was very interesting. I guess I did not really consider people being convicted in their late 50’s, but it makes sense that there is a great population convicted of violent crimes like murder and sex crimes and they have a whole new dilemma of adjustment considering the hopelessness of long term sentences. Broken families, loneliness, lost reputations, medical problems and inability to integrate into the prison system led by a younger generation of convicts would make it very difficult. Yet contrasting the population that cannot adjust is a population that would rather be in prison than on the outside. If I hadn’t seen Shawshank Redemption, this concept would be very difficult for me to grasp. I just don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be so excited to be released, but it makes sense if after 50 years of uncontrollable dependence, they are thrown out in the world with nowhere to go. Even in one of my letters, one 51 year old man is scheduled for release next May and he is scared of where he is going to parole to. He says he cannot return to Chicago as that is where his crime of murdering a child molester that got him into prison took place 20 years earlier. He asked if our agency or group had any sort for newly released prisoners. In the article, it was stated that many prisoners appreciate the fact that their medications are always provided and it is of no cost to them. Another prisoner said that the medical care was not as bad as everyone made it out to be. Yet regardless, inherently, I agree with the prisoner who was quoted in “Aging Prisoners” who said “To keep a man in prison when you know he’s going to die, when his chances of being a threat to society are long passed…I’m scared to death of that” He described the 8 inmates that can always be found lying in the back of the hospital waiting to die. That is a miserable ending and so sad to think about.