The Tennessee corrections department is confronting a new challenge: the rise in elderly inmates during the next 20 years, the Tennessean reports from Nashville. Bob Wayman, 66, is part of the new face of corrections. A double-amputee, Wayman is serving four years for vehicular homicide in a special medical facility; he is scheduled for release next year. Wayman loves to visit the gym or sun himself in the concrete-and-fence recreation yard with roommate Phil Kress, 66, a convicted rapist with Parkinson’s disease.
Tennessee spends about $20,000 a year on the average prisoner. A sick, aging inmate can cost the state as much as $60,000 a year. “I think there will be a real crisis for states to deal with”, said Ron Aday, a Middle Tennessee State University professor who studies aging inmates.
About 10% of Tennessee prison inmates are older than 50 – slightly more than the national 9% average, state prison officials say. Every year, more inmates need treatment for hypertension, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and emphysema and require physical therapy and hospice care. Many old or feeble inmates must be housed separately because they can become targets for younger, tougher prisoners. The 50-plus set is “senior” by prison standards because hard lifestyles before prison often cause inmates to age about 10 years faster.
Tennessee is looking to lead the nation in elder-care corrections. Officials are tracking details of the 50-plus inmates and working on plans to handle physical disabilities, life skill issues, elderly support groups and hospice care. Tennessee is one of 16 states with facilities for frail and aging inmates, and it was among the first to establish them. To help control costs, the state contracted inmate health care to a private managed-care company, saving money but drawing criticism from inmates.
All across the country, the changing face of corrections and its rising costs could force prison officials, politicians, maybe even taxpayers to reshape their ideas of tough justice, some experts say. States like Georgia and California have reduced medical costs with early-release programs for some elderly inmates who are a low risk to society. Other states have created geriatric justice systems, modeled after juvenile justice systems, to help meet seniors’ special needs.