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.

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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.