In New York, roughly 17 percent of the state’s prison population is elderly. By 2030, the aging are expected to account for one third of the prison population, write Elizabeth Gaynes of the Osborne Association and former New York state corrections commissioner Brian Fischer in the Albany Times-Union. The U S. spends $16 billion annually on incarceration for individuals aged 50 and older, about double the cost of incarcerating a younger person. Prisons were not designed to meet the basic needs of elderly individuals, Gaynes and Fischer say. Wheelchair inaccessibility and bunk beds make daily life difficult for people with mobility impairment. When the health ward proves incapable of providing care, prisoners must be cared for at an outside hospital with expensive around-the-clock guards.
Many “long-termers” are so old, sick, and frail that they pose virtually no safety risk to the public, with a national recidivism rate of only 4 percent for those over 65. What are the solutions? The Senior Ex-Offender Program in San Francisco is the first re-entry program in the U.S. that exclusively focuses on the aging population. In New York, the Osborne Association will begin a pilot project to provide discharge planning and case management support for elders released to New York City. “Any systemic and sustained change is contingent upon our collective willingness to deal with the looming crisis of a graying prison population in ways that reduce costs and improve lives while recognizing the inherent dignity of all people,” say Gaynes and Fischer.