In a year when the U.S. prison population fell slightly, the number of older inmates grew rapidly, continuing a trend that translates into higher federal and state prison health care spending, reports Stateline. From 1999 to 2014, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 or older increased 250 percent. This compares to a growth rate of only 8 percent among inmates younger than 55, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 1999, inmates 55 and above were 3 percent of the total population. By 2014, that share had grown to 10 percent.
Like senior citizens outside prison walls, older inmates are more likely to experience dementia, impaired mobility, and loss of hearing and vision, among other conditions. In prisons, these ailments present special challenges and can necessitate increased staffing levels and enhanced officer training, as inmates may have difficulty complying with orders from correctional officers. Older inmates are more susceptible to costly chronic medical conditions. In 2011-12, 73 percent of state and federal prisoners 50 or older reported a chronic medical condition such as hypertension, arthritis, asthma, or diabetes, among others. Younger inmates were much less likely to have reported such a condition. The National Institute of Corrections has pegged the annual cost of incarcerating prisoners 55 and older with chronic and terminal illnesses at, on average, two to three times that of the expense for other inmates.