Utah Lacks Enough Beds for Its Growing Geriatric Inmate Population


Nine percent of Utah’s prison inmates, 619 in all, are over 55 — the age at which Utah considers an inmate to be old, says the Salt Lake Tribune. “You age faster when you live the kind of lifestyle that leads to incarceration,” said corrections director Tom Patterson. There are 91 inmates 70 and older — including one who is 95 years old. The ranks of inmates in this age category tripled over the past 10 years. Michelle Buswell, Utah State Prison nursing director, said ambitious plans for its geriatric unit, such as having an assigned nursing staff, had to be scaled back due to lack of funds even as the need for specialized care has continued to grow. In mid-July, there were 122 inmates eligible for geriatric units, but no beds available to accommodate them. “We're in a bed crunch here, trying to put inmates in the right places,” Buswell said.

Medical costs incurred by older inmates are significant, and the burden on the state is heavy because inmates are ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare and few have private insurance. “This population is who uses the majority of our dollars, so our best effort is preventative care,” Buswell said. “We try to head off problems early so we don't get chronic illnesses.” At the geriatric unit, half the beds are for younger inmates — called ADA workers — who assist elderly or disabled prisoners or help manage the unit. Inmates are carefully screened to ensure they have the right temperament to be an aide. The job pays $1 an hour. “It's like a 24-hour job, but it's cool,” said Garrick Bradshaw, 52, the lead ADA worker, who is serving time for robbery. “It's cool because you get to know people and bond with them. [ ] Having a job like this is giving back for all the things you've done in your life.”

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