Category: Aging in Prison

Feb 08 2013

Crazy PIC Fact of the Day…

Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) 2012 report, Old Behind Bars, found that, between 2007 and 2010, the number of sentenced prisoners aged 65 or older grew 94 times faster than the total sentenced prisoner population during that same period.

I’ve written quite a bit about aging in prison on this blog. Here’s one example that includes some striking photographs by Tim Gruber.

Sep 08 2012

Aging in Prison Depicted in a Country Music Video…

I’ve written several times on this blog about the increase in the elderly who are in prison. This increase is related to longer sentences and a curbing of parole in several states. You can read some of my posts about this issue here, here, and here. Colorlines also created a terrific infographic that visually depicts the problem of an aging prison population.

Now comes an amazingly moving music video by Brandi Carlile for a song titled “That Wasn’t Me” featuring Kris Kristofferson (who I just love). In the video, Kristofferson plays an elderly man who is paroled from prison and cannot find a way to fit into society. Please take a moment to watch the video. You won’t be sorry.

May 16 2011

The Lost Years: The Elderly in Prisons

Last week, I went to Cook County Jail to visit a young man who is currently being detained there. I absolutely hate that place but that is a story for another day. Anyway, as I was meeting with this young man, I noticed an older black inmate who was talking with a younger woman. This man looked to be at least 65 years old and I just felt sad.

by Billy Dee

I have previously written about the plight of elderly prisoners on this blog. Today another interesting article about this topic was published in Corrections Magazine.

The following paragraphs are the most interesting parts of the piece to me:

As of 2010, 13% of inmates in our prison system were over 55 years old.(1) This number is predicted to increase between four and seven times in the next 20 years, becoming the fastest growing prisoner age group.(2) By 2030, it is estimated that 1/3 of the entire US prison population – currently estimated at 1.6M – will be 55 years or older.(2)

In addition, studies have found incarceration accelerates the aging process by an average of 11.5 years.(3) Compared to younger prisoners; older inmates have higher rates of mild and serious health conditions. Due to deteriorating health, aging inmates have special needs. These needs range from medication and special diets to round the clock nursing, driving costs of managing an elderly prisoner to an estimated $70,000 annually – this is 3x the cost of regular inmates.(4)

These are staggering numbers.

Note: The illustration in this post is from a new zine called “the PIC Is” which can be downloaded for free here.

Apr 26 2011

Making Old and Sick People Pay is Just Cruel…

In the past couple of years, the idea that prison costs are unsustainable has gained purchase among policymakers. This has led to more of a willingness to discuss closing some prisons and that can only be a good thing.

Tim Gruber - Served Out: Aging and Dying Behind Bars

I read a recent article in the Financial Times about the aging prison population in the U.S. I have written about this issue in the past. The FT article features the story of an 87 year old prisoner named Melville Atkinson who had already been incarcerated for 20 years. The article suggests that the number of elderly prisoners is poised to increase significantly:

The total number of elderly inmates is predicted to increase between four and seven times in the next 20 years, the fastest growing prisoner age group. Some academics estimate that one-third of the entire US prison population, which currently houses 1.6m people, will be more than 55 years old by 2030.

“It is the grey tsunami and it’s coming for us,” says Keith Davis, the warden at Deerfield.

This is stunning and very, very expensive. Elderly prisoners “like Mr Atkinson require specialist diets, medication and round-the-clock nursing – at an average cost of $70,000 a year, three times that of regular inmates, according to the Pew Center on the States, a think tank. Some cost as much as $1m a year.” I believe that it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment to keep 87 year olds locked behind bars no matter the crime. This should change. If we are not going to immediately abolish prisons, then we should push for age limits for imprisonment at the very least.

A related article points to a county in Pennsylvania that is trying to address its prisoner health care costs by instituting a co-payment requirement for doctor visits:

Fayette’s inmates are required to pay $10 to see a doctor. Inmates who want a second opinion pay a $20 co-pay. There is a $5 fee for prescription medications.

Brownfield said the fees are assessed on inmates with the means to pay. Care is provided at no charge to indigent inmates.

“We definitely see the number reducing of people asking to see a nurse or doctor,” Warden Brian Miller said. “If you have a headache and you want to talk to the nurse to get a Motrin, do you want to spend $5 for a couple of Motrin?”

It’s cheaper for inmates to get the pills at the commissary, Miller said.

“It comes down to a budgetary issue,” Miller said. “Every year, the inmate incarceration numbers are increasing, so anything you can do to recover some costs, we’re going to attempt to do.”

In Allegheny County, Dixon noted, many of the 2,500 to 2,700 inmates are indigent, with no means to make the payment. He said a previous administration considered the idea but rejected it.

A past administration thought it would inhibit people from getting care, where if they didn’t have the money, they would have to decide whether to get care, or get something from the commissary,” Dixon said.

I think that the past administration had it right. Most prisoners were poor when they got to prison and certainly do not become rich while serving their time. I know that it costs a lot of money to provide health care for people so the solution should be to dramatically decrease the numbers of prisoners rather than to make prisoners pay for health care. It is worth reading the entire article to better understand the costs associated with providing health care to prisoners (particularly elderly ones). For example:

Fayette County pays Primecare Medical a monthly base fee of $45,413 to provide health care for inmates, according to the controller’s office. The county paid $31,984 monthly in 2005.

Pennsylvania, which houses about 51,200 inmates, spends an average of $4,000 per inmate annually for health care. For the fiscal year 2009-10, the state collected $414,262 in revenues from inmate co-pays.

Jan 02 2011

I Love It When Prisoners Smack Down MSM Stupidity…

In the New Year, I am committed to featuring many more voices from the inside on this blog. To kick off the year, here is a letter to the editor from a prisoner in Florida who is responding to this truly dumb and misinformed column.

Here is the letter by Jeffrey Ashten, Martin Correctional facility:

Letter: Life in prison in Florida is not Club Fed

I am a 48-year-old inmate at Martin Correctional, serving a life sentence for homicide, having been incarcerated since September 1988 and I would like to respond to Charles DeGarmo’s views on prisons versus senior care facilities (“Move seniors into prisons for better care”, Nov. 5) as his facts are a bit off the mark.

There are no free phones in prison, as all calls are collect. Computers are donated and used in limited/restricted access with no connection to any outside system. The televisions and computers, donated by church groups, are welcomed by the prison staff as they are utilized to control inmates.

I’ve yet to see in all my decades of incarceration an outdoor meditation garden. Perhaps Mr. DeGarmo means the times I zone out while repeatedly cutting the grass?

The only special meals here are for medical reasons. I am Jewish. I’ve yet to see a Kosher diet for long-term prisoners. (Short-term prisoners just received one this year for the first time. Federal law mandates it.)

As to food in prison, I invite Mr. DeGarmo to come dine with me on a diet that is 70 percent soy. (Not too good for health from what I see on my donated, collectively-shared TV.) He seems too willing to comment upon a situation of which he has no first-hand knowledge. Television and movies have glamorized “Club Fed.” I didn’t rate a federal sentence. In Florida, I assure you, there are no “Club Feds.”

It is ridiculous to compare senior care to that of prisoners. Seniors have rights that I don’t. They can vote for elected officials who could regulate better care for them. I can’t vote for a better jailer. If Mr. DeGarmo doesn’t like the system of warehousing prisoners, then he should put his efforts into finding a better way for criminal reform.

Aug 26 2010

“Grace Before Dying”: Humanizing Prisoners

Grace Before Dying is a photo exhibit that looks at how, through hospice, inmates assert and affirm their humanity in an environment designed to isolate and punish. (h/t Just Seeds Blog).

From the introduction of the exhibit’s website:

A life sentence in Louisiana means life. More than 85% of the 5,100 inmates imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola are expected to die there. Until the hospice program was created in 1998, prisoners died mostly alone in the prison hospital. Their bodies were buried in shoddy boxes in numbered graves at the prison cemetery. But the nationally recognized program, run by one staff nurse and a team of inmate volunteers, has changed that.

I don’t have anything to say except that I was profoundly moved by these two images. They show the humanity of those behind bars both the dying and those who are giving care while bearing witness.

You can view other photographs here.

Aug 17 2010

More on aging prisoners…with visuals

I want to extend the discussion about the aging prison population that was sparked a couple of weeks ago by Sara Mayeux’s post at Prison Law Blog and followed by my own about the top states with the highest percentages of prisoners over 55 years old and then was engaged by Adam Serwer over at Tapped.

Yesterday the AP published a piece titled Aging inmates strain prison systems. From the article:

The ACLU estimates that it costs about $72,000 to house an elderly inmate for a year, compared to $24,000 for a younger prisoner.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of men and women in state and federal prisons age 55 and older grew 76 percent between 1999 and 2008, the latest year available, from 43,300 to 76,400. The growth of the entire prison population grew only 18 percent in that period.

“We’re reaping the fruits of bad public policy like Three Strikes laws and other mandatory minimum sentencing laws,” said David C. Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, D.C. “One in 11 prisoners is serving a life sentence.”

Washington has 2,495 inmates who are age 50 or older, the state’s definition of elderly, according to information released after a public records request from The Associated Press. There are 270 inmates over the age of 65.

It occurs to me that not all segments of the prison population are aging at the same rate.  For example, it turns out according to Dr. Heather West of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that while prisoners of all races are getting older, this is more pronounced among whites and African Americans.  Latino/Hispanic prisoners are younger with a particularly large grouping who are between the ages of 25-29 (source: Exploring Racial Differences in Imprisonement Rates 2000-2009, Presentation at the ACA Conference 8/3/10).

The AARP has produced this short report about the issue of aging prisoners that is worth watching to get an understanding of what is at stake (h/t vera institute of justice)

Photographer Tim Gruber has also created an incredible photo essay called Served Out: Aging and Dying Behind Bars. Honestly, I cannot say enough about this harrowing piece of work.  You need to see it yourself.  He describes the photographs as follows:

Served Out documents a world that is made up of inmates that are weathered beyond their years. Many of these men struggle with simple tasks, like remembering the date, feeding themselves or even leaving their bed. Beyond the loss of their physical and mental independence many fight with keeping their hope alive. Forgiveness, hope and a sense of independence are not easily found behind bars. “Hope is all we have. We have to keep some kind of hope if we don’t we’ll surely perish,” said inmate Thomas Jones of coming to terms with a life behind bars.

Here is just one of the images.  Tell me why are these men is STILL LOCKED UP?

Tim Gruber - Served Out: Aging and Dying Behind Bars

Tim Gruber -- Served Out: Aging & Dying Behind Bars