The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction defines elderly inmates as those age 50 and older. Offenders over 50 make up about 14 percent of Ohio’s more than 50,000 inmates, according to the (Cleveland)Plain Dealer.
Research indicates that a prisoner’s physiological age is, on average, seven to 10 years older than their chronological age. Therefore, a 50-year old inmate may likely experience the age-related health problems of a 60-year old on the outside, according The Council of State Governments.
As a result, the Federal Bureau of Prisons saw healthcare expenses increase by 55 percent from 2006 to 2013, when it spent more than $1 billion, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general. The inspector general is conducting a review of the impact of the aging inmate population on prison activities, housing and costs.
Cost of care
There are about 2.3 million adults in state and federal prisons. According to the National Institute of Corrections, about 246,000 are 50 or older. The U.S. currently spends more than $16 billion annually caring for these aging inmates, and their numbers are projected to grow dramatically in the next 15 years.
The Wall Street Journal recently asked – why is America’s prison population getting old? The conventional wisdom says it’s because of harsher sentencing policies and antidrug laws adopted in the 1980s. New research, however, suggests another factor may be behind the graying of inmates – the growth of offenders entering or re-entering prison in middle age.
More middle aged prisoners can be traced in part to long accepted sentence guidelines. The prisoners in state prison are thought to be the worst of the worst. That threshold is often determined by looking at the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history of the offender.
The system has long acknowledged that offenders often age out of crime—the most dangerous segment of the population is young people. However, young people haven’t been around long enough to rack-up a significant prior record so their sentences don’t often reflect their level of dangerousness.
Prior record score
After aging offenders have had enough time to crank up their prior record score, they are less likely to commit crime but when they do they get clobbered. A felony at age 45 with a significant prior record might land that offender in prison for 20 years, whereas that same offense by a 19-year-old might mean 18 months.
A study on aging prisoners, funded by Bureau of Justice Assistance, concluded that “rising admission age is the primary force driving the increase in the elderly group.”
“Our federal prisons are starting to resemble nursing homes surrounded with razor wire,” Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums told The Washington Post.
In the last five years, several states have contracted with private nursing homes to care for some of their elderly and disabled inmates under so-called “medical parole” programs that allow prisoners to receive care outside of a prison while remaining in state custody.
In 2013, Connecticut asked the commercial nursing home industry to provide a facility that would accept a steady stream of prison inmates and patients from the state mental hospital who required long-term nursing care.
According to Kaiser Health News, a handful of states is interested in following Connecticut’s lead; Michigan is seeking industry proposals for a similar arrangement, and Kentucky and Wisconsin are considering doing the same.
Will Ohio fall in line?
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino