100,000 May Die in Prison; How Long Should They Be Locked Up?


Mother Jones magazine weighs in on the geriatric inmate problem, citing an American Civil Liberties Union estimate that there may be more than 400,000 inmates over 55 years old by 2030, and saying that “a growing number of advocates—and even a handful of corrections officials and politicians—have dared to suggest that we consider setting some of these old-timers free.” “It’s huge,” says Bob Hood, the former warden of the mammoth federal correctional complex in Florence, Colorado. “We’re behind the eight-ball on this.”

More than 100,000 inmates are destined to die in prison, and far more will remain there well into their 60s and 70s. Many of these men—as most of them are men—never were violent criminals, even in their youth. In Texas, for example, 65 percent of the older prisoners are in for nonviolent acts such as drug possession and property crimes. Keeping thousands of old men locked away might make sense to die-hards seeking maximum retribution or politicians seeking political cover, says Mother Jones, but it has little effect on public safety. By age 50, people are far less likely to commit serious crimes. “Arrest rates drop to 2 percent,” explains Hood, the retired federal warden. “They are almost nil at the age of 65.” The arrest rate for 16-to-19-year-olds, by contrast, runs around 12 percent.

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