Aging inmates often require special care, which drives up the cost of incarceration. NPR's police and prisons correspondent Laura Sullivan and Jonathan Turley, director of the Project on Older Prisons, discuss the options available to prison systems in dealing with thousands of inmates growing old behind bars.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden, in Washington.
An elderly man in a wheelchair, a woman who requires dialysis: These probably don't fit your image of the typical prisoner. But as prison rolls grow, so do the ages of inmates. Crime reforms of the 1980s and '90s meant mandatory sentences and reduced parole. That means more people growing infirm and dying in prison, and taking care of them is expensive.
Many states now operate geriatric prisons, some with round-the-clock care. Some are experimenting with early release programs, arguing that a convicted felon may no longer be so dangerous in his 80s or 90s.
Joining us this hour in Studio 3A is Jonathan Turley. He directs the Project for Older Prisons at George Washington University. And also NPR's police and prisons correspondent, Laura Sullivan.
Welcome to you both.
LAURA SULLIVAN: Thank you.
Mr. JONATHAN TURLEY (Director, Project on Older Prisons, George Washington University): Thank you, Jennifer.
LUDDEN: Later in the hour, a Tuesday mini-edition of the Political Junkie. We'll talk with the Republican and Democratic House candidates from Colorado's Fourth District.
But first, aging in prison. We'd like to hear from those of you with direct experience with this issue, in law enforcement, the prison system or families of older inmates. Tell us your story. Should states grant parole to aging inmates?
We begin with Jonathan Turley for an overview here. Tell us: How many people are we talking about?
Mr. TURLEY: Well, there's no single source of data to show us the exact numbers of older prisoners across the country. What we do know is that it's the fastest-growing segment of prison populations.
States are reporting that the number of older prisoners - which are often measured at 50 older. At POPS, we set it at 55 and over. But they are the fastest-growing segment.
To give you an idea of that growth, in Virginia, you have just one prison reporting that they had 900 inmates in 1990, and today, they have 5,000 that would fall into this category. So you have that's just one state.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010