surging population of elderly inmates in America

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There has been a dramatic increase in the number of elderly prisoners in America in recent years, which has presented a variety of requirements and difficulties for the country's correctional agencies. The responsibility of meeting the particular requirements of the elderly prison populations has fallen on the shoulders of the nation's correctional officials. The agencies have been charged with the costly task of providing specialized medical care, making available necessary support in nursing and programming, as well as providing appropriate infrastructure for the ailing and elderly inmates. This is in accordance with medical, legal, and societal expectations. These tasks have significantly increased the cost of incarceration and aroused human rights advocacy bodies such as RAPP (release aging people in prison) who through their human rights lobbies have disputed the current state of correctional administration. Therefore the relevant stakeholders in prison administration should rise to the occasion and address the prevailing needs and challenges through appropriate policies and interventions (Williams et al., 2012).

According to a report by BOP (bureau of prisons), the fastest growing section of inmate population between the years 2009 to 2013 was above 50 years. Additionally, aging people are more expensive to incarcerate with their average medical expenditure being higher by up to ten times and their total incarceration expenditure being two to three times higher than that of young inmates. In light of the ineligibility of inmates to federal programs on health insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid, this expenditure has significantly affected the taxpayer spending in the provision of medical care in correctional centers. Due to the legal requirement for the provision of medical care to inmates, the correctional agencies are obligated to provide solutions to reduce the deaths of elderly inmates in prisons which stood at an alarming 8,486 deaths between 2001 to 2007.

The high cost of healthcare provision in prisons and a threat to further escalation of the crisis has presented the most top challenge to policymakers, correctional healthcare bodies, correctional administrators and health professions (Ahalt et al., 2013). In remedying this problem, consideration into the release of elderly prisoners, staff training on elderly inmates cares, improvement of medical facilities, as well as revision of policies such as "Tough On Crime" laws, is paramount to reduce the number of incarcerated elders.

Another major challenge is the programming and infrastructural shortcomings in the present correctional facilities. The absence of caregivers, escalators, specially designed pavements and beds, age-sensitive programs and specialized treatment for elderly inmates is posing a significant challenge due to an increasing number of prisoners aged above 55 years. The services provided regarding education, vocational and recreational opportunities have also been termed as age-insensitive. Furthermore, due to prison conditions, this section of inmates is prone to physical and mental health problems including chronic, terminal and disabling illnesses as compared to their unincarcerated agemates (Williams et al., 2012). This a big logistical nightmare for correctional administrators who are tasked with the jurisdiction of only administering the correctional purposes of deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, and rehabilitation with strict respect to human rights and needs.

It is therefore essential that correctional agencies incorporate other stakeholders in charting the way forward regarding the current and projected elderly compositions in the American correctional system. This will ensure that suitable strategies and policies are formulated to intervene in the situation and mitigate upon the unprecedented effects of having a large elderly population in our jails and prisons. The current systems should also be interrogated for applicability, efficiency, and effects on the prevailing conditions.


Ahalt, C., Trestman, R. L., Rich, J. D., Greifinger, R. B., & Williams, B. A. (2013). Paying the price: the pressing need for quality, cost, and outcomes data to improve correctional health care for older prisoners. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 61(11).

Williams, B. A., Goodwin, J. S., Baillargeon, J., Ahalt, C., & Walter, L. C. (2012). Addressing the aging crisis in US criminal justice health care. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 60(6), 1150-1156.

Williams, B. A., Stern, M. F., Mellow, J., Safer, M., & Greifinger, R. B. (2012). Aging in correctional custody: setting a policy agenda for older prisoner health care. American journal of public health, 102(8), 1475-1481.

July 15, 2023

Crime Government Health


Federal Government Aging

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