The number of older inmates in Missouri's prisons has nearly tripled over the past decade and stands at about 4,700, says the Columbia Missourian. The number is “expected to keep spiraling upward,” said Missouri Department of Corrections official Deloise Williams. The cost of caring for them will strain an already strapped state budget. “We seem to be racking up some extraordinary costs for reasons that are not particularly rational,” said Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff. “Some of these men are fairly disabled and probably not able to engage in criminal activity even if they are inclined to.”
On Jan. 1, the state's first geriatric wing, or “enhanced care unit,” opened at the Jefferson City Correctional Center to help cope with the financial and logistical burden that comes with the aging population. Designed as a miniature nursing home within a prison, the 36-bed unit will be a place where old cons in wheelchairs, strapped to oxygen tanks or struggling with dementia will be segregated from the general population, where many are vulnerable to abuse. The Pew Center on the States says the average annual cost of caring for elderly inmates in a correctional setting is about $70,000 — two to three times that of their younger counterparts. Community nursing home placement costs taxpayers about $57,000 a year, much of which comes from Medicaid and Medicare. Other community-based options like electronic monitoring costs only about $3,600 a year.