Old prisoners are the fastest growing population in U.S. prison systems, which is costing taxpayers a fortune, reports Al Jazeera America. In Michigan, a representative state, prison health care costs have tripled in the past 25 years to $300 million a year, or 15 percent of a $2 billion prison budget that is also the state's largest single expense. Across the nation, that spiral is expected to continue, alarming even many conservative lawmakers who must balance their passion for fiscal discipline with their belief in punishing criminals. One cause is life sentences, which total about 160,000, nearly five times as many as in 1984, says the Sentencing Project.
In addition, new research led by Shawn Bushway of the University at Albany says that the average sentence length hasn't risen but the median age of people convicted and sent to prison has. “We think this is more attributed to the fact that older people are more likely to be incarcerated than they used to be rather than younger people are now getting longer prison sentences,” he said. Part of that, he said, is because people who go to prison once are significantly more likely to return, especially if they're let out with few good options for rebuilding their lives. “When you have so many more 40-year-olds coming out of prison than you used to, those ex-prisoners are going to be disconnected to the labor market because they got stuck in prison during their prime years. It's really hard to start over at 40.”