Bill Heirens, known as Chicago’s “lipstick killer,” is the longest-serving inmate in the Illinois prison system, says the Chicago Reader. He’s been behind bars since the age of 17, when he he confessed to three gruesome murders that dominated news headlines in 1946. Now Heirens, 82, is ill and clearly too frail to injure anyone, but taxpayers are spending $73,000 per year to house and treat him. The Illinois Department of Corrections spends roughly $428 million a year–about a third of its annual budget–keeping elderly inmates behind bars.
The number of older state prisoners has expanded sixfold over the past 20 years, to 5,868 today. Inmates over 50 account for nearly 13 percent of the Illinois prison population. National numbers mirror the Illinois trend. If there are to be any changes in state sentencing practices, they may emanate from a state Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, composed of law enforcement officials, criminal justice experts, and retired politicians, that is set to make its recommendations by the end of 2012. Meanwhile, the problem is getting worse. “We’re on the tip of the iceberg now of what we’re going to see in terms of the graying of the American prison population,” says Ronald Aday, director of aging studies at Middle Tennessee State University.