The aging prison population in the U.S. is a “silver tsunami” heading our way, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. The fastest-growing population in federal and state prisons are those 55 and older, a trend that is forcing cash-strapped local governments to wrestle with the growing cost of caring for the aging inmates. Some experts are pushing states to take the controversial step of releasing certain older prisoners before their sentences are up.
The report says the number of state and federal prisoners 55 or over nearly quadrupled to 124,400 between 1995 and 2010, while the prison population as a whole grew by only 42%. Some legal experts cite the drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s, which sent away thousands of young men to decades-long prison sentences. In addition, tougher sentencing laws, including the abolition of parole in many states and the advent of three-strikes-you’re-out laws in others, have fueled the growth in the overall prison population. At current rates, a third of all prisoners will be 50 or older by 2030, according to a study to be released next month by the American Civil Liberties Union.