Is Locking Up Elderly Inmates An Unnecessary Public Expense?


Yohannes Johnson, 55, serving 75 years to life in an upstate New York prison, heads the Lifer’s and Long-Termer’s Organization, part of a growing club of inmates locked up for life nationwide, reports the Associated Press. Corrections officials are considering different options for older inmates while some research suggests keeping them locked up until they die might be an expensive and unnecessary price for the public to pay. Nationally, nearly 10 percent of more than 2.3 million inmates were serving life sentences in 2008, including 41,095 people doing life without parole, up 22 percent in five years, says The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prison.

“The theme is we’re protecting society, then the question is: From what?” said Soffiyah Elijah of the Correctional Association of New York, a watchdog group. She said with the cost of keeping a state inmate $55,000 a year – a cost that grows as they age and their medical needs increase – a financial analysis shows that parole and probation are far cheaper punishments that can also satisfy the public need for retribution. Data show new crimes by convicted felons steadily declining from their teens through their dotage. “What kind of treatment programs should we be considering for the offenders who have a sentence of life without parole, or enter the system with sentences of 50 years to life?” New York Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer asked on the 40th anniversary of the deadly riots at Attica, a maximum-security prison in New York State.

See The Crime Report’s series “The Graying of America’s Prisons” for more information.

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