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Support for Aging Prisoners

Recent decades have seen crackdowns on crime and drugs in America, in order to keep our streets and citizens safer. Unfortunately, this also means a larger prison population to house, feed, and provide care for. And with stricter sentencing laws, especially the newer “three strikes” laws, an additional result is that people remain in prison longer and the nation is now experiencing a crisis of sorts: how do we care for – and more importantly afford to care for – the large population of elderly inmates?

In 2010, 8% of the prison population was aged 55 or older, nearly three times what it was only 15 years earlier. And as in society as a whole, prisoners over the age of 55 tend to have more health problems and need more prescription medication and medical treatment to remain healthy. But with the recent recession, and tax-payers and politicians wanting to spend less and less on incarceration every year, governments are running into fiscal issues relating to the reconciliation of these growing costs with dwindling budgets. Across the board, criminal justice professionals are called upon to help offer insight into this growing need, while learning the very specific health and age-related issues that overlap throughout the aging prison population. Even students participating within a criminal justice program can offer insight through studies and discussion, giving the benefit of a fresh look into an ever-growing problem.

Several states have attempted to overcome this problem in some interesting ways. For example, Louisiana instituted a hospice program in their prisons, in which younger inmates perform the duties necessary to care for terminally ill inmates. Montana and Massachusetts are attempting to open prisons specifically for aging prisoners, which will resemble assisted living facilities. In Washington, there is a low-security housing unit specifically for disabled prisoners who are considered low security risks.

These solutions are not without their problems however. Many tax-payers not only do not want their money spent on care for inmates, especially when they have difficulty affording such care themselves. Often, many citizens don’t feel that it is the state’s responsibility to provide any care for these prisoners, as their prison sentence is a result of their own actions and decisions.

Clearly, there is no easy answer to the aging prisoner dilemma. But there is no question that the matter needs to be handled somehow. The population of aging prisoners have vastly different requirements when it comes to health needs, and it is a matter of conscience whether these aging prisoners are provided the proper support to address these needs.

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