Monday, February 15, 2016

'No Place for Old Men': Incarcerating the elderly

The rising number of elderly prisoners, the associated escalating health care costs, and the strange disconnect between incarcerating the elderly and the ostensible public safety goal of prison, are issues about which professionals in the field have long been aware but the public, for the most part, simply isn't aware. At the Texas Observer, Dick Reavis has a story titled "No Place for Old Men," which included this notable excerpt:
The state of Texas operates 109 prisons holding about 148,000 inmates. Some 27,000 of them are, like Alonzo, over the age of 50. They account for about 18 percent of the prison population, and are the fastest-growing demographic group among prisoners. By most estimates, they are also the most expensive to keep under lock and key. According to TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst, the average cost of housing Texas inmates is about $20,000 a year, but medical and end-of-life expenses hike that figure to some $30,000 for elderly inmates. In other jurisdictions, the cost is even higher. A 2012 report from the ACLU calculates the average national expense for keeping a prisoner at $34,000 per year — and twice that much, $68,000, for inmates older than 50.

Both demographic factors and get-tough sentencing have transformed what were once mere penal institutions into hospitals, assisted living centers and nursing homes, too. The University of Texas Medical Branch operates a freestanding hospital in Galveston for TDCJ, which also contracts with UTMB and the Texas Tech medical school to send prisoners to 146 community hospitals. Texas prisons now boast of “respiratory isolation rooms,” “brace and limb services” and hospice facilities in which 90 Texas inmates were eased into eternity last year. More than 300 inmates in Texas prisons use wheelchairs, Dr. Murray says.
Lots of excellent detail and telling anecdotes in the story, Reavis did a great job capturing the dynamics of the issue.

MORE: See a new feature on related themes from The Atlantic.

13 comments:

sunray's wench said...

The blame is not exclusively with TDCJ on this. TDCJ make recommendations to the BPP for medical parole every year, many of the cases for elderly inmates, and the BPP deny all but a small number of those recommendations. The last figures I saw I think were for 2012, in which TDCJ recommended over 400 medical parole cases, and the BPP only approved around 140.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's totally right, SW. And not just the parole board, either. The problem begins with having so many sentenced to such long sentences in the first place.

Texas prosecutors for years have treated getting the longest possible sentences as a badge of honor - something that gave them chits in their intra-professional dick measuring contests and datapoints to tout their tuff-on-crime credentials to voters. That prosecutorial culture trivialized both the human impact of those choices and the practical realities of incarcerating inmates for decades after they no longer pose a threat to society.

The result: As of August 31, 2014, TDCJ housed more than 17,298 inmates serving sentences of more than 40 years up to life, including 1,812 serving sentences for property or drug offenses. (Source: See here, p. 26 of the pdf; proffered data excludes capital cases.) Like Marc Mauer, I see little practical justification for prison sentences longer than 20 years.

One could blame judges and juries to some extent, too, but since 97+% of Texas criminal cases are plea bargained, they're mostly not involved.

Regardless, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Gadfly said...

IIRC, the feds boot them out, if they're not life-without-parole folks, when they turn 65 and let them live on Medicare and Social Security, and no friends because all the friends they did have are in prison.

Anonymous said...

What goes around comes around...

sunray's wench said...

There is a strong case for electronic monitoring of older inmates once they have served 5-10 years of however long their sentence might have been. Surely that would cost less than $30,000 a year?

SEMPERFINE said...

These arguments were addressed during the legislative fights over LWOP 15 years ago. The promoters of LWOP repeatedly assured the legislature that LWOP effectively prevented release. The counter-arguments that were made were that while there was no allowance of parole; LWOP did Not equate to life without release. The potential for executive action, such as another disastrous use of the PMA to reduce populations, clemency based upon numerous factors, and the use of medical release to avoid paying medical expenses were all brought out. LWOP still became law; but the express intent was that convicted Capital Murderers should not, under ANY circumstances, be allowed any form whatsoever of release from incarceration.
For the non-violent inmates, yes, medical release is a plausible consideration. But for those who eliminated a persons existence through their criminal actions, they should not be allowed any form of compassionate release.

Anonymous said...

Just got a woman convicted 2 years ago. She was 70 at the time. She needs to do her full sentence of 10 years or she will fleece more elderly victims!!!

Will Yablome said...

KLAATU BARADA NIKTO!

Gadfly said...

Anon No. 2 ... The Donald's worried about those 100-year-olds defrauding Social Security, so you're absolutely right.

Anonymous said...

Grits, you nailed it with the prosecutors always going for the maximum sentence, no matter what the circumstances surrounding the case. Too many times, even the minimum sentence would be a stretch given the facts of the case, but unfortunately, judges generally let the prosecutors get away with courtroom larceny because they also want to be seen as tough on crime. To say that the judicial system is in need of an overhaul is an understatement and the sooner the better. In the meantime, when you read of cases that this blog referred to, you see how older inmates get left to deteriorate for lack of medical care and a lack of humane treatment. TDCJ bemoans the fact that their budgets have been cut, yet the BPP, when they have a chance to return an aging prisoner who no longer poses any threat back to society, they collectively sit on their thumbs and reject the request. These kinds of cases are the ones where truly, the inmates should be running the asylum. At least it would be more fair than it now is.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

SEMPERFINE, I opposed the LWOP bill so I do not in the least feel constrained by what death-penalty abolitionists argued while promoting it back in the day.

Also, perhaps you noticed above where I mentioned that the "proffered data excludes capital cases"? There are a ton of cases in those larger categories before we have to worry about LWOP.

Anonymous said...

What goes around comes around...

harimau bola said...

Yeah Thats Right Karma What Goes Around Comes Around...Situs Judi Agen Taruhan Bola Online Resmi Euro 2016
Agen Judi Casino Online Terbaik Dan Terpercaya