States should consider releasing elderly prisoners who have served long sentences on the grounds of compassionate release or geriatric and medical parole, says the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).
The recommendations came on the heels of a new study of elderly incarcerees who were released under a 2012 Maryland high court ruling, that showed a recidivism rate of 3 percent.
The study demonstrates the “low risk” of releasing older prisoners, said the JPI.
The landmark 2012 case, Unger v Maryland, led to the release of 188 prisoners. The so-called “Ungers” were provided with enhanced reentry services, under a grant from the Open Society Institute, and turned into a “natural experiment in reentry for elderly incarcerated people,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) in a press release accompanying the study
“We know that most people age out of crime, and that’s been supported by what we’ve seen here.”
Schindler called on policymakers to heed “the lessons learned.”
“(They) can feel comfortable in reducing sentence lengths and releasing older individuals who can be safely returned to the community.”
According to the JPI, the nine-year re-arrest rate is 43 percent for people 60 or older, in contrast to the 3 percent rate of the “Ungers.”
The court ruling, which held that jury instructions given in the prisoners’ trials were unconstitutional, affected an estimated 235 people.
The JPI study noted that the Ungers have in the process contributed to their communities through mentoring youth and volunteering with counseling organizations.
But the individuals themselves reported that they still faced challenges in community acceptance and in getting their lives back together..
“Everybody I talked to…just weanted a job—and a job that their background wouldn’t be held against them,” said Stanley Mitchell, who was released from prison after serving 37 years.
Other recommendations in the study included:
- Link release decisions to an individual’s conduct in prison and the risk of future criminal activity;
- Set aside funds for “specialized discharge planning and reentry preparation” for inmates who have served long prison terms.
The full study is available here.