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Inmates over Fifty

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report in 2013 about elderly inmates.  The elderly inmate population has increased 1300 percent since the early 1980’s. The federal government and the states spend more than $16 billion a year to jail aging inmates. The report  concluded that almost all inmates over 50 are not a threat to society. It costs $68,000 annually to imprison an elderly inmate. This is twice the cost to incarcerate inmates between the age of 18-50. The difference in costs is due to health care expenses rising dramatically every year for elderly inmates.

Many of these inmates are now in their seventies and eighties. The release of these inmates, many who were imprisoned for non-violent crimes and/or drug possession would not constitute a danger to their communities. An ACLU report found that states would save approximately $66,000 a year for each elderly inmate released from prison despite the cost of their care outside of prison.

Even with the high cost of  health care in prisons, the medical care in many of our prisons and jails is inadequate at best. The physicians and their assistants are not trained for care of the geriatric prison population. Elderly inmates have more health problems and require more health care than young inmates. Inmates over seventy need longer and more frequent hospitalizations. On a personal note, I watched inmates stand in line outside in the rain for 30 minutes waiting for their medications. Several of these inmates were in their seventies and required canes to ambulate.

Many prisons have tiers for inmates over the age of forty. This policy has helped to protect older inmates from younger inmates, but has not eliminated this problem completely since all inmates use the chow hall and outside areas.

There are solutions for this growing problem. First, the criteria for  parole and early release should give greater weight to the age and the health of inmates.  Second, the criteria should take into account that elderly inmates have a low recidivism rate. A 2004 report found that federal inmates over the age of fifty had a 9.5 recidivism rate compared to 33.5 percent for inmates under twenty five. The recidivism rate for inmates over seventy was under five percent. By taking such appropriate measures, we can reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer’s money, and have a more humane society.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of


3 Responses to Inmates over Fifty

  1. PrisonPath December 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Leonna Abraham-Brandao
    Founder of New Vision Organization, Inc. (RETIRED) July 1, 2014

    If you know of anyone who is willing to help a prisoner who deserves a second chance, please let me know at: or 508-583-0051. It is inhumane to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate via a long-term residential treatment facility, other than prisons. Especially for individuals who had never been involved with the law or substances at any time in their past, and for these individuals who offended as a result of unaddressed child hood traumas which ultimately lead to severe depression, when coping skills were interrupted by a series of other issues. My son went in when he was 27 and he has been in for 18 years. I have issues with the funding going to the American Psychological Associations, who could be very instrumental in helping the incarcerated men, women and youth, who struggled with, and continue to struggle with depression and other psychological issues which are not being addressed properly in the penal system.

  2. PrisonPath December 27, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    I went to prison at age 27 and was released when I was 54 after my conviction was finally reversed. Prison at any age sucks but the number of prisoners over 50 is ridiculous because statistics show that the vast majority of them could be safely released if only the governmental review boards had a meaningful review system that looked at each person and situation individually instead of painting everyone with the same superficial brush.
    By Ronald

  3. PrisonPath December 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    I was sent to prison for the first time when I was in my mid-fifties. Most everyone else was young and we had many discussions as to whether it was better to go to prison as a young man or as an older man.

    I felt that being older gave me more perspective on why the prison was run the way it was and because it happened later in life, the chances of it permanently causing me harm were less. Being older, I could also see through some of the tactics used by the Knuckle Draggers to stir things up in the cell blocks.

    The young guys disagreed. Being young gave you a definite physical advantage, something I was reminded of every time we had to run a couple laps around the shit ponds in under twenty minutes. Being young also gives you time in life to get over the experience and live a good life after release from prison, while the older man sacrifices his golden years living inside a cage.

    It was a good topic of discussion out on the yard, but we never arrived at a firm conclusion. If I had to do it again, I would definitely want to be OG.
    By Alan

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