Harsh sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums, continue to have lasting consequences for inmates and the prison system, says the Washington Post. Inmates 50 and older are the fastest-growing population in crowded federal correctional facilities, their numbers up 25 percent to nearly 31,000 from 2009 to 2013. Some prisons have needed to set up geriatric wards, while others have effectively been turned into convalescent homes. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons saw health-care expenses for inmates increase 55 percent from 2006 to 2013, when it spent more than $1 billion. That figure is nearly equal to the entire budget of the U.S. Marshals Service or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Obama administration is allowing prisoners who meet certain criteria to be released early through clemency and urging prosecutors to reserve the most severe drug charges for serious, high-level offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has made tens of thousands of incarcerated drug offenders eligible for reduced sentences. Until more elderly prisoners are discharged, the government will be forced to spend more to serve the population. Among other expenditures, that means hiring additional nurses and redesigning prisons — installing showers that can be used by the elderly, for instance, or ensuring that entryways are wheelchair-accessible. “Prisons simply are not physically designed to accommodate the infirmities that come with age,” said Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, author of a report titled “Old Behind Bars.”