With an increasingly aging prison population in the United States, a new report says it would be less costly to release elderly prisoners who are no longer a danger to public safety.
There has been overwhelming evidence showing that prisoners age 50 and older are far less likely to commit new crimes, according to the report released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The report also states that research conclusively shows that arrest rates drop to just over two percent at age 50 and almost zero percent by age 65.
The aging epidemic is the result of various federal and state “tough on crime” laws and provisions from the mid-1970s through the 1990s, such as “mandatory minimum” sentences, the “war on drugs,” and “three-strikes-and-you’re-out,” as well as restrictions on parole that were enacted during those years.
20 YEARS OR MORE
Many of those affected would have been sentenced to much shorter periods for their crimes prior to 1979, the report concludes. Instead, they received sentences of 20 years or more.
State corrections spending grew by more than 674 percent over the last 25 years, becoming the fourth largest category of state spending, the report says. The costs are mainly spent on incarceration, including incarceration of aging prisoners.
Nationally, the report says it costs approximately $68,270 per year per aging prisoner. That cost is double the $34,135 per year for the average prisoner in all states and about $30,000 more than the average American household income. The California average is about $50,000 for most prisoners.
The report estimates there are approximately 246,600 aging and elderly prisoners in the United States, making up 16 percent of the prison population nationwide. That number is expected to increase by 4,400 percent from 1981 to 2030 for prisoners age 55 and older.
The largest segment of aging prisoners is white, at 42 percent. However, African-American and Hispanic prisoners make up a much higher percentage of aging prisoners than they do the general population, at 33 percent for blacks and 15 percent for Hispanics.
California leads the nation with about 27,680 prisoners 50 or older, the report says, with the majority in prison for low-level, nonviolent crimes.
The ACLU report also recommends a number of short-term changes to begin addressing the problem, including:
- Granting conditional release to aging prisoners who pose little safety risk.
- Utilizing and expanding existing medical parole laws and provisions.
- Increasing accountability and transparency of parole boards and encouraging the boards to utilize existing age-based and medical-based release programs.
The report also proposes doing away with the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” policies and recommends such long-term systemic reforms as:
- Repeal laws mandating a minimum sentence, which prevent judges from tailoring punishments to individual cases.
- Give crime-appropriate sentences, rather than life sentences, to repeat offenders who commit multiple low-level, non-violent crimes.
- Repeal laws that eliminate good-time credits, which result in inmates serving longer sentences. Good-time credits are awarded for good behavior and completing positive programs.