Geriatric Prison Nation

Posted in the Rome Forum

Doug French

New York, NY

#1 Feb 3, 2012
Who hasn’t seen “The Shawshank Redemption” featuring aging convicts Red Redding (Morgan Freeman) and Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore)? The movie was set in the 1940s when most prisoners were young tough guys and of course in this case the cerebral Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins). Redding and Hatlen were finally set free after spending 40 and 50 years behind bars, respectively.

If Shawshank were to be remade today, a good share of the inmate population would have gray hair and be suffering from various medical problems. Ashby Jones and Joanna Chung write for The Wall Street Journal that the number of state and federal prisoners aged 55 or older has quadrupled since 1995 far outpacing the growth of the overall prison population that has grown by a considerable 42 percent.

“Prisons are facing a silver tsunami,” according to Jamie Fellner, the author of the Human Rights Watch study that identifies the new problem for states.“Walk through any prison and you’ll see a surprising number of wheelchairs and walkers and portable-oxygen tanks.”

“Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities,” says Fellner.“Yet U.S. corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars.”

Prisons are not equipped with wheelchair ramps and other accommodations for the elderly. At the same time, the U.S. Constitution requires that prisoners receive adequate health care and basic necessities. So while state budgets continue to be squeezed, it’s estimated that a third of the nation’s prison population will be over 50 by 2030 at a cost currently running $70,000 per older prisoner per year.

America’s prison population has ramped up from fewer than 800,000 in 1980 to over 2.5 million by 2008. And many non-violent prisoners will go gray behind gray bars. In the rest of the world, committing a nonviolent crime is far less likely to land you in prison, and if it does it’s a short stay.

For example, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks is the United States. Buying too much allergy medicine can get you 20 years behind bars.

“Heart problems, diabetes, cognitive impairment and end-stage liver disease from hepatitis or cirrhosis, these are becoming increasingly common problems in our nation’s prisons,” said Robert Greifinger, a former chief medical officer for the New York City department of correction.

Several states have established medical facilities on or near prison grounds to treat problems most closely associated with aging. In 2006, for instance, New York opened a facility that specializes in treating inmates with dementia. Prisons in Mississippi, Texas and California have centers that offer specialized treatment for geriatric medical problems.

A.T. Wall, director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, tells the HuFF Post that he and his colleagues regularly exchange ideas on how to cope with the surging numbers of older prisoners.

Retrofitting cells with handicap toilets and garb bars are the least of their problems.“Dementia can set in, and an inmate who was formerly easy to manage becomes very difficult to manage,” he said.

Cash strapped states are starting to set elderly prisoners free so the state doesn’t have to pay for their needs.
In “Shawshank,” Brooks and Red wanted to go back to prison once they were let out. Modern prisoners will likely want to stay as well, just for the healthcare.
Doug French

New York, NY

#2 Feb 3, 2012
comments from article:

Nick January 27, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I work at a law school clinical program where we provide legal services to inmates.

I had the opportunity to see a geriatric section of a prison. I failed to see the point of 1) why people were locked up so long, and 2) what the point was, since most of them really probably were not a danger to anyone. I saw one woman who appeared to be unable to get out of bed.

Reply
. Capn Mike January 27, 2012 at 11:45 pm

I see a movie in this:

A guy, suffering from ill health, unable to get adequate care, pulling a “crime” to go inside.

sort of like “The Mouse that Roared” if your old enough to remember….

George January 28, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Once they’re in a wheel chair or have to tote an oxygen tank around they’re no longer a threat, so they should be released then the taxpayers won’t have to provide the expensive medical care.

Reply
. HL January 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I think upon release they go into another government welfare scheme, albeit slightly less expensive.

Sucking on oxygen while sitting in a wheel chair does not automatically make someone less of a threat. I have seen my fair share of violent wheel chair bound crazies (back in the ghetto days). And, let’s face it, it was a psychopath in a wheel chair who got the USA into WWII. Just sayin’.

Reply
. JChancey January 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm

This is no joke, I had a neighbor, in his 70′s, who sold his pain meds for extra cash. He always said “so what if they arrest me i’ll probably get better medical care in prison than what I can afford.” He passed away a few years ago without ever getting to find out, but i’m sure there are many more like him.

Reply
. Luton Ian January 30, 2012 at 7:45 am

Not to detract from Doug’s point (which I whole heartedly agree with),

a family friend (who is now, himself in the late stages of a degenerative illness, and represents a nightmare for the staff of the old folks home where he is cared for), used to be the superintendent in charge of an urban police station in Britain, in the early 1980s.

He got there one morning to find a man in his late 80s in the cells. Seems that the old man, who was well known in the town of Chester-le-Street, liked to get a few beers and find himself a fight on a Saturday night…

Our superintendent (always one to watch his own back), had the old man released immediately. Regardless that the old prisoner was indeed violent, the repercussions and paperwork resulting from a death in the cells were of far greater seriousness for him, than anything the old man was likely to get up to on the outside – perverse reasoning to get there, but an outcome which I can agree with.

A few years later, the old man made the local TV news for his continuing drunken exploits. I think he actually did go to prison for a short while. Something of a one in however many million example.
Chris peperxxxxx

Saint Louis, MO

#3 Jul 8, 2013
. America has become a prison / war empire. Since the constitution is gone it is morally acceptable to cheat on your taxes.

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