Aging inmates present prison crisis
----- Original Message ----- 
From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney 
To: PATRICK Crusade 
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2003 2:52 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] Aging inmates present prison crisis

The article below says: <<"However, in reality, some of the most dangerous and/or persistent criminals sentenced to life in prison without parole 30 years ago are now old, debilitated, frail, chronically ill, depressed and no longer considered a threat to society or the institution," the
report says.>>

Activists have been pointing out this fact for many years.  The objective of the penal system is to maintain safety in society.

Releasing the old and infirmed will not be a danger to society and the DOC officials know this to be true.  So why are they being kept in our overcrowded prisons?  It makes no sense.  Some of the old and infirmed don't have a place to go.  In these cases, why keep them in prison where they are more vulnerable to assault by younger prisoners?  Why not place them in hospital facilities or old folks homes?  The cost would probably be less than the cost of keeping them in prison and their transfers or releases would free up bed space for the other prisoners who remain and who are not suitable for community service as an alternative to

There are many practical ways to reduce the prison overcrowding situation without spending more tax money to build more prisons.  The above is one of them.

"Building more prisons to fight crime is like building more graveyards to fight a fatal disease." 

 ----- Original Message ----- 
To: ; ; ; 
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2003 11:58 PM
Subject: Aging inmates present prison crisis

Posted 8/10/2003 8:40 PM 

Aging inmates present prison crisis
By Patrick McMahon, USA TODAY

Death is a little sweeter now for some inmates at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, which once was called the "bloodiest prison in America."

In a state where a "life sentence" means just that, officials at Angola are determined to provide "death with dignity" for inmates. There is a hospice for the terminally ill. No one dies alone. Since 1998, a glass-enclosed hearse, made by prisoners and drawn by two Percheron horses, carries bodies to the prison cemetery in handmade coffins. Inmates walk behind, singing Amazing Grace as they go. 

Of the 5,018 inmates at Angola â€" located about 115 miles northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi River â€" 90% will die in state custody, says Angola's warden, Burl Cain. That's a result of longer and mandatory sentences in recent years, with limited opportunities for parole. "Inmates are getting older and more feeble, and the medical costs are going up, and it's just yuck," Cain says. 

As states try to cope with the growing costs of prisons during tight financial times, one expensive problem sticks out: older, sick and dying inmates. And the problem is only expected to grow.

It is a huge problem for state governments that are cash-strapped, says Ronald Aday, author of the 2003 book Aging Prisoners: Crisis in American Corrections. "In addition to health care issues, work assignments, co-payments, nutritional requirements, concerns for victimization, end of life issues and appropriate staffing are concerns that will have to be addressed," he says. "The task is a daunting one." 

State approaches vary 

Prisons have had elderly inmates for years. But aging baby boomers behind bars signal new challenges. 

In 2002, there were 120,933 prisoners 50 and over in the nation's prisons, more than double the number in 1992, says the Criminal Justice Institute of Middleton, Conn. That is 8.6% of all inmates, up from 5.7% in 1992.

"When considering dangerous, violent and predatory inmates, one does not usually envision an elderly man hobbling down a prison corridor with a cane or walker," says a new institute report for the Justice Department's National Institute of Corrections.

"However, in reality, some of the most dangerous and/or persistent criminals sentenced to life in prison without parole 30 years ago are now old, debilitated, frail, chronically ill, depressed and no longer considered a threat to society or the institution," the report says.

States are beginning to respond in different ways. Some have wings or units just for older prisoners. Others have entire geriatric prisons. Many have hospices. States are making greater use of medical parole and early release, and some prisons are saving space for more prison cemeteries.

Each state approaches its elderly inmate population differently, says University of South Carolina criminologist Joann Morton. Some are careful to monitor every inmate over age 50. Others provide no special programs or medical treatment beyond that available to all inmates.

A 2001 summary in Corrections Compendium, a journal of the American Corrections Institute, found in a survey of 46 states that:

Sixteen maintain separate facilities to house older inmates. In 2000, Florida opened a work camp for 378 able-bodied inmates, mostly older than 50. It is located on the grounds of the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee. As of May 31, Florida had 7,636 inmates age 50 and over, an increase of 12% from the year before.

Many states have medical treatment, including annual physicals, special diets and exercise programs, for older inmates. In Texas, the state comptroller reported in 2000 that 200 of its 1,159 inmates over age 65 required around-the-clock skilled nursing care. Nebraska offers nursing-home living for some inmates, the report says, and Oklahoma considers some of its older inmates open to exploitation and puts them in single-person cells. 

Forty-one offer some kind of early release for older inmates, depending on their health. Early release, however, remains limited in some states.

Many states offer hospice care for dying inmates, says Fleet Maull, founder of the National Prison Hospice Association in Boulder, Colo. He predicts that every state will offer hospice care within five years. 

A report by the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office says elderly inmates cost two to three times more to care for than do younger ones. It notes that the National Center of Institutions and Alternatives estimates incarceration costs for an elderly inmate are $69,000 a year, compared with a national average of $22,000 for all inmates.

This year, with California facing major financial problems, the analyst's office recommended releasing more non-violent seniors to parole, but the Legislature didn't go along. 

"Our analysis suggests that housing non-violent elderly inmates in prison is not a good use of scarce resources since they are potentially very expensive yet represent a relatively low risk to society," the office said.

Dying in prison 

Many older inmates die in prison without any family or friends to pay for a funeral or burial. As a result, corrections officials often become funeral directors, cemetery operators and grief counselors in addition to being health care providers and pharmacists.

At Angola, Warden Cain says about half of the inmates end up being buried there. He has opened a prison hospice that serves about eight to 10 inmates at a time and gets high marks from hospice experts. This at a prison that was called "the bloodiest prison in America" in the early 1970s because of its high number of inmate-on-inmate deaths.

Although groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have concerns about the way Angola is run, Warden Cain also gets praise. Al Shapiro, president of the Louisiana ACLU chapter, says, "We have our differences, but I don't doubt his compassion for sick and dying inmates."

The warden says, "I always remember the victims, but I can't help the ones that are in the grave. Maybe I can do something for ones we have here." His secret: "Good food, good medicine, good playing and good praying, and you'll have a good prison."

Sherry Swiney
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking 
we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein