A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Aging prisoners should be released: ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] released [press release] a report [text, PDF] on Wednesday claiming that it costs $68,270 per year to house a prisoner age 50 and older while many pose virtually no threat to society. The ACLU found that 16 percent of the national prison population is age 50 and older with California, Texas, Florida and the federal prison system having the highest number of such prisoners. The population increased 14 times from 1981 and it is predicted that the aging prisoner will comprise over one-third of prisoners in the US by 2030. Most of the older prisoners have been sentenced to prison for 20 years or more not for serious crimes such as murder but for nonviolent low-level crimes such as nonviolent drug crimes, fraud, larceny, burglary, and traffic and public order violations. The ACLU estimated that states could save approximately $66,000 per year by releasing aging prisoners. It was also predicted that most of the aging prisoners will live with their families or friends saving the government costs accrued due to housing assistance. Few recommendations were suggested to lower the costs for states and taxpayers caused by the aging prisoners. One of them include granting conditional release for aging prisoners who pose little safety risk by allowing them to request a hearing before a parole board. If the board or a comparable agency finds that the prisoners do not pose heightened safety risks to the public, they should be released.

A similar finding was made in January by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. It expressed concern [JURIST report] over aging prisones becoming the fastest growing group in US prisons. HRW's report [text, PDF] revealed that the cost to effectively house and treat older prisoners is three to nine times higher than those for younger prisoners. Not only the costs are higher but prisons have been deemed to be ineffective to provide the group appropriate housing and medical care. During the same month, the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that California prison officials have failed to protect disabled parolees by not providing them wheelchairs and other mobility assistance devices. In June of last year, California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] submitted [JURIST report] a plan to reduce the state's prison population to comply with US Supreme Court [official website] ruling two months earlier. The Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] upheld an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners because the overcrowding of the state's prison system is causing inmates to receive inadequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text].

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