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The problem caused by aging prison population

On Behalf of | May 22, 2016 | Firm News

The problem is easily illustrated by the numbers

  • The number of prisoners age 55 or older sentenced to more than 1 year in state prison increased 400% between 1993 and 2013, from 26,300 (3% of the total state prison population) in 1993 to 131,500 (10% of the total population) in 2013.
  • Between 1993 and 2003, prisoners ages 45 to 49 grew the fastest, while those age 55 or older grew the fastest between 2003 to 2013.
  • In 2013, the median age of state prisoners was 36 years compared to 30 years in 1993 and 34 years in 2003.
  • The imprisonment rate for prisoners age 55 or older sentenced to more than 1 year in state prison increased from 49 per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same age in 1993 to 154 per 100,000 in 2013.
  • Between 1993 and 2013, more than 65% of prisoners age 55 or older were serving time in state prison for violent offenses, compared to a maximum of 58% for other age groups sentenced for violent offenses.
  • More than four times as many prisoners age 55 or older were admitted to state prisons in 2013 (25,700) than in 1993 (6,300).
  • The median age at admission increased from 29 years in 1993 to 32 years in 2003 and 2013. „ Forty percent of state prisoners age 55 or older on December 31, 2013, had been imprisoned for at least 10 years, compared to 9% in 1993.
  • Forty percent of prisoners age 55 or older on December 31, 2013, had been admitted to prison after they were at least age 55, and 60% turned 55 while in prison.

SOURCE: Aging of the state prison population 1993-2013, Department of Justice (May 2016),
Aging inmates are more costly to incarcerate (aging inmates on average cost 8 percent more per inmate to incarcerate than inmates age 49 and younger) than their younger counterparts due to increased medical needs. Limited institution staff and inadequate staff training affect the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) ability to address the needs of aging inmates. The physical infrastructure of BOP institutions also limits the availability of appropriate housing for aging inmates. Further, the BOP does not provide programming opportunities designed specifically to meet the needs of aging inmates. Aging inmates engage in fewer misconduct incidents while incarcerated and have a lower rate of re-arrest once released; however, BOP policies limit the number of aging inmates who can be considered for early release and, as a result, few are actually released early.  Office of Inspector General, The Impact of an Aging Inmate Population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (May 2015)
Perhaps the largest tragedy is that this exponential increase of older adults in prison is not due to a crime surge in that demographic but rather is the result of stricter sentencing laws passed in the midst of the 1980’s tough on crime fervor. Laws such as “Three Strikes You’re Out” and “Truth-In-Sentencing” gave crimes like drug offenses a maximum sentence of 30 years. Before these laws were passed, the maximum had been ten years.  Asst. Prof. Tina Maschi“The Hidden Costs of Elderly Inmates” Huffpost Crime (March 2012)