Dennis Whitney has grown old in Florida prisons, serving 44 years and counting for two murders committed when he was 17.
Now 61, Whitney has undergone two angioplasties at state expense to clear blocked blood vessels, and he needs a third such procedure. The first two cost a total of nearly $9,000.
Whitney and others like him represent a growing burden for the nation’s prisons: The number of elderly inmates is rising fast, and so are their health care costs.
“The cost and numbers are getting out of hand,” said Herb Hoetler, chief executive of the National Institute on Institutions and Alternatives in Alexandria, Va.
In 2002, 121,000 inmates age 50 and over were in state or federal prisons, more than twice as many as a decade earlier, reports the Associated Press.
Largely because of health care expenses, the average cost of housing an inmate over 60 is $70,000 a year, or about three times the average cost for prisoners overall.
Across the country, states are taking steps to hold down the costs of elderly inmates.
At least 16 states have established separate facilities to house older inmates, and many are offering hospice care for dying prisoners. In Texas, about 200 inmates over 65 receive round-the-clock nursing care. Nebraska offers nursing home living for some inmates, and Oklahoma is setting up a prison unit for elderly inmates.