A growing population of elderly inmates is driving up prison medical costs to the point that some Texas legislators would like to see more of those who are feeble and chronically ill released early, reports the Houston Chronicle. In the last decade, the number of inmates 55 and older has spiked as much as 8 percent each year, growing to about 12,500. In prisons across the U.S., inmates grow old serving longer sentences and enter prison at an older age. Between 1999 and 2008, the number of inmates 55 and older in state and federal prisons increased by 76 percent to 76,400, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Elderly inmates in Texas make up 8 percent of the prison population, yet they account for more than 30 percent of prison hospitalization costs. Legislators this session did not pass a bill that would have required release of certain elderly and sick inmates to community settings. Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, would like to see prison space freed up for more dangerous criminals and the cost savings used for law enforcement. “In times of fiscal concern, we’re spending $1 million or more on inmates who can’t get out of bed or are really sick individuals. It’s just nuts,” he said.