Name: Nanette Buchanan
Title: Aging While Incarcerated
For every criminal act there is a law. A written agreement presented to the people and government that whoever commits a violation of the law there will be a punishment. The severity of the punishment can range from community service, a monetary fine, to life imprisonment. The death penalty has been a controversial topic and as such has been revoked and reduced to life without parole in many states.
There are many problems with our judicial system and most of the controversy is found in the sentencing. Do most offenders get what they deserve? Does the punishment fit the crime? Is each case, though the elements may be the same, does it get a fair trial? What happens after the incarceration becomes costly?
Each crime, during the trial, is presented to the jury by both the defense and the state. The state must have enough evidence for an indictment. Once the defendant is found guilty by the jury the judge sets a date for sentencing. The sentence is also set according to the elements, evidence, testimonies and the laws pertaining to that crime. This seems fair unless the crime is hideous in nature, highly profiled and televised, or lacks the evidence that would support maximum punishment. Controversial court proceedings, those that attract the media’s attention, receive sympathy for the victim as well as empathy for the accused. No one follows the offender who is released, unless they are a repeat offender. No one follows what goes on behind the walls, in the cells, on the tiers, unless watching breaking news or the reality shows.
The reality is these incarcerated men and women cost the states where they are serving time. Custody and care of these inmates increase as they get older. Most suffer from psychological disorders and other mental conditions, develop illness, need constant health care and just like people in the free world they get older. Aging has become a problem across the nation. What does the system do when the inmate ages, suffers from long term illness, requires hospice care? Who pays for the cost that most states didn’t consider when jails were established?
There is little to no difference between the seventy five year old inmate and one’s grandfather or grandmother. It’s obvious they are locked in a cell serving time for a crime they did when they were young; for many life without parole has kept him there. The average man or woman at seventy five has slower movement, may have various health problems, or need long term care.
Several states have established medical facilities on or near prison grounds to treat problems most closely associated with aging. Still, the costs associated with care for elderly prisoners are high and growing. States spend on average $70,000 a year to incarcerate someone age 50 or older, nearly three times what it costs to house a younger prisoner, largely because of the difference in health care costs, according to the National Institute of Corrections. Source: Ashby Jones and Joanna Chung, "Care for Aging Inmates Puts Strain on Prisons," Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2012.
Sex offenders, and those who need hospice care may incur costs that are well over this amount. Some states are considering releasing those who need long term care. Most facilities are not equipped to handle the needs of these aging inmates. The required medical needs cannot be met and the liability increases with each episode that sends the inmate to the emergency room. Fees increase as their health deteriorates; family and friends are strained in the process as well. Often a chance to make final arrangements or granted last days of comfort with the family is not permitted. Visits must still conform to the rules of the institution.
Even minor changes in aging are costly. Cataracts, the need for eye surgery, heart problems, the need for walking assistance are neglected conditions that land the inmate in jail. The access to Gynecologists in the female institutions is a rarity in some of the women institutions and every female disorder must be met in the hospital setting. Again the custody and care of the inmate is a must in the Department of Corrections and with each trip outside of the jail includes custody staff. Whether it is an emergency or monitoring the inmate in their hospital room, custody staff is there. The emergency trip or keeping staff with the inmate may incur overtime being paid at both the hospital and the institution. This adds additional money to the cost of care for one inmate.
The decision to release inmates must be reviewed on all levels. The money that is spent shouldn’t outweigh the need to keep an aged inmate sickly incarcerated until he/she dies. Inmates just as those of us in the free world are living longer. Dementia sets in; they often can’t bathe themselves, or eat. It’s obvious they need a hospice unit, but “locking them up and throwing away the key” was the intention when the final blow of gavel was heard. The cost is on the taxpayers. As your State and Federal taxes rise, there’s an inmate that is receiving free health care, care you nor your aging family member may not be able to receive.
I don’t think that we should not care for those who are incarcerated or those who have grown old with no end to their sentence. However, there should be a state facility in each state to house those who are in need of long term care. The cost of housing them in a local hospital is a lot more costly and squeezes a budget that is already strained.