As prison officials struggle to deal with the growing number of inmates with health problems, Missouri has created an “Old Timer's Unit” at its Moberly Correctional Center The average age of its 22 prisoners is 63. In a balance between high costs and fear, society needs to take a smarter approach, said Lonn Lanza-Kaduce, chairman of the criminology department at the University of Florida. Even if “some old codger” is released commits an attention-getting crime, “people should look systematically at what is happening instead of the dramatic exception,” he said. The U.S. Justice Department has attacked a bill that would allow the release of nonviolent criminals who were at least 45 years old and had served half their sentences. The bill would “subvert” the truth in sentencing practice, said Drew Wrigley, U.S. attorney of North Dakota.
Only 5.24 percent of Missouri inmates were over 50 in 1995, compared with 13.4 percent last year. In Kansas it was 6.1 percent in 1995 and twice that last year. Missouri’s Old Timer's Unit opened in 1994 for well-behaved older and sicker inmates. Partly, it protects them from younger bullies. Inmates have their own cell because some could not climb to a top bunk. They have a personal toilet and sink. “At that juncture in life,” said warden Dean Minor, “privacy becomes more of an issue.” Reducing problems for prisoners reduces problems for the staff. “We're not trying to give them special favors, but we're trying to meet their special needs,” Minor said.