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Aging Prisoners Shackle State Budgets

11-10-2014 California:

The nation’s graying prison population will strain the corrections system. There are ways to keep costs down, but they’re not often used.

Nearly 10 percent of inmates housed in California state prisons were age 50 or older in 2003. About a decade later, that percentage has doubled. Thanks to an aging prison population and a 2011 prison realignment bill that sent lower-level and typically younger offenders to county jails, about 21 percent of the total state prison population today is over age 50.

While the circumstances in California are unique, the predicament is not. As baby boomers age nationally, America’s prison population is graying. What’s less understood, though, is the full extent of the demands an older prison population will place on corrections systems and just how much it will end up costing.

A recent Urban Institute analysis suggests that it could carry significant fiscal consequences for states in the years to come. Compared to the general population, older prisoners experience accelerated aging due to substance abuse or other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Older prisoners also require, according to the report, more time from guards for their daily routines and chores. “Despite being a small percentage of the total inmate population, the implications are quite large,” says Bryce Peterson, an Urban Institute research associate. He adds that “policies and different intervention strategies should focus on a larger group of older inmates and not just those close to death or severely ill.”

One program in a few California state prisons that could be expanded to help older prisoners, for example, allows inmates to volunteer their time to aid fellow prisoners who are developmentally disabled or mentally ill. The volunteers, known as “gold coats” for the gold smocks they wear, assist inmates with daily tasks, such as dressing or filling out paperwork. As part of the program, they receive training and regularly meet with prison health staff. ..Continued.. by Mike Maciag

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