More inmates are volunteering sit with fellow prisoners in the last six months of their lives. More than 3,000 prisoners a year die of natural causes in correctional facilities, says the New York Times. U.S. prisons house a growing geriatric population, with one-third of all inmates expected to be over 50 by next year. As courts have handed down longer sentences and states tightened parole, about 75 prisons have started hospice programs, half of them using inmate volunteers, says to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organziation.
New York State’s Coxsackie prison started a hospice program in 1996 in response to the AIDS epidemic using an outside agency, then changed to inmate volunteers in 2001. The change saved money and was well-received by the patients. Superintendent William Lape says of the volunteers: “I think it's turned their life around.” The nursing director at Coxsackie said, “You can identify in each of these [volunteers] something inside them driving them to do this. It's a desire to redeem themselves, so even when it gets hard they're able to plow through it.”