Arizona’s inmates are getting older, sicker, and they are staying behind bars longer, driving up publicly-financed health care costs, the Arizona Republic reports. The state is spending nearly $36 million a year more on health care than it did a decade ago. The influx of aging inmates is just beginning. By 2009, more than 2,000 graying inmates, or double the number housed in 1998, will be eating up health care dollars in prison. Inmate Gene Garrett, 74, incarcerated on sex offenses, is arthritic and on crutches. He has a stent in his heart after a heart attack; he takes 18 pills a day.
Arizona, with more than 32,000 inmates, mirrors a national problem, with prison health care costs up 78 percent in the past decade. At least 16 states provide special housing units for geriatric inmates, and soon Arizona will join more than two dozen states that operate hospice facilities inside prisons to provide end-of-life care at a reduced cost. Inmates age even faster than people on the outside. A lifetime of poor diets, drug and alcohol abuse and violence, coupled with the stress of prison, triggers the earlier onset of chronic and geriatric ailments. Often, an inmate’s physiological age is 10 years older than his chronological age. As a result, 55 is considered elderly in prison. National estimates place the annual costs for elderly inmates at about $70,000. “Most states are going to hit a wall due to this phenomenon,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and founder of the Project for Older Prisoners.