With longer prison sentences and less parole, many U.S. prisons are finding that their population of elderly inmates is on the increase. A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice says that states must confront the extensive, costly medical needs of many older prisoners. Vera says that legislators and policymakers are increasingly willing to consider early release for those older prisoners who are seen as posing a relatively low risk to public safety.
The report includes a statutory review of geriatric release provisions, including some medical release practices that refer to elderly inmates. At the end of 2009, 15 states and the District of Columbia had provisions for geriatric release, but jurisdictions rarely use them. Four factors help explain the difference between the stated intent and the actual impact of geriatric release laws: political considerations and public opinion; narrow eligibility criteria; procedures that discourage inmates from applying for release; and complicated and lengthy referral and review processes. Vera urges states to consider using age 55 as the threshold for “elderly” inmates, citing the the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.