Lifers make up a sizable portion of the elderly Pennsylvania prison population, sociologist Larry Rosenberg of Millersville University tells the Lancaster (PA) New Era. The elderly prison population includes repeat offenders incarcerated after their “third strike” and inmates serving long sentences for crimes committed in their 40s and 50s. Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman has noticed a recent increase in older sex offenders. “We do prosecute a lot of older men for these offenses compared to other crimes, and they tend to get the long sentences, which keep them in,” he said.
Regardless of why they landed in prison, it’s increasingly difficult for inmates of any age to get out. Nearly 4,800 men and women currently are serving life sentences in state prisons. Many “lifers” committed their crimes while in their 20s, Rosenberg said. Life in Pennsylvania means no chance of parole, so even young lifers eventually will grow old in prison. Ann Schwartzman of the Pennsylvania Prison Society acknowledged that some lifers committed brutal crimes. But, she said, some may have turned their lives around after decades in prison and might deserve a chance at freedom. “We all change as individuals,” she said. “At some point as a society we need to determine, ‘Are these just people we can toss away, or does anyone deserve a second chance?’ “