The fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population is composed of inmates who are aging, alone, sick, and forgotten, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. The newspaper profiles one of them, Marvae Dunn, 67, cannot speak. He cannot walk. He cannot follow directions beyond the simplest of commands and does not understand most of what others say to him. He has spent most of the last seven years in the Philadelphia prison infirmary. He never has stood trial for murder, but he has been, in effect, serving a life sentence.
Inmates like Dunn are “getting older, their neighbors are getting older, their contacts are getting older,” said Ann Schwartzman of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “We’re going to see more people lost in the system because they’re losing those links.” In all of his time behind bars, Dunn has had few visitors, and, until recently, no one to advocate for him. The license of the first of his two court-appointed lawyers was suspended in 2010 for neglecting to properly represent clients. Dunn’s isolation was compounded by the fact that he is waiting for a trial that – short of a miracle recovery – will never be held. “Who knows how many others are out there like Mr. Dunn who have disappeared into the system? There’s no systematic way to identify these people,” said Common Pleas Court Senior Judge Benjamin Lerner.