As North Carolina’s prison population grows and ages, the cost of providing health care to inmates has nearly doubled in less than a decade, the Charlotte Observer reports. Tougher sentencing laws are keeping criminals in prison longer — often into their 70s and 80s. As medical costs rise, states are struggling to control their prison health care budgets. Carolinas taxpayers spent more than $583 million in the past three years on prison health care.
At one state prison, Thomas Taylor walks gingerly with a cane. He’s had two heart attacks and prostate cancer and now suffers from arthritis and occasionally gout. Taylor, a convicted rapist serving a life sentence, is at least 88, the oldest inmate in North Carolina’s prison system. The white-haired inmate is among more than 2,950 convicts locked up in the state’s prisons who are 50 and over. More than 100 are in their 70s and 80s. Nationwide, state prison systems face dramatic increases in older inmates and rising health care costs.”These are two of the biggest problems facing corrections today,” said Joe Weedon of the American Correctional Association. North Carolina’s 76 prisons now house more than 36,000 inmates. With prison population expected to top 45,000 by 2014, health care costs are not likely going down. Dr. Paula Smith, health services director for the N.C. Department of Correction, said many inmates are not in good health when they arrive at the state’s prisons: “I have young people who have been addicted to cocaine and other drugs that may affect their hearts. We have people in their 30s who have had heart attacks.”