A New Challenge for America’s Prisons: An Exploding Aging Population

Today, our nation’s correctional facilities face an unprecedented challenge: Meeting the needs of a drastically increasing number of older inmates.  The percentage of prisoners age 65 and older has grown by 67% percent in the past four years (Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation, John Jay College, & Policy Research Associates, 2012).  According to a recent news article based on a June 2012 ACLU report, the number of inmates aged 55 or older in correctional settings has increased 1,300 percent since the early 1980s (Huffington Post, 2012).  This growth has enormous implications for the criminal justice system.

Brie Williams, MD from the University of California – San Francisco and Bob Greifinger, MD of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, NY recognized these immense implications when they submitted a funding request to the Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation for their project, Designing, piloting and disseminating a model multidisciplinary geriatrics program to assess and improve the care of older jail inmates. As part of this project, an interdisciplinary meeting was organized at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City in 2011. The purpose of this meeting was to create a policy agenda proposal for improving the care of older prisoners in America’s criminal justice system.

Policy Research Associates, also through support from the Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation via a grant to carry out Maximizing the Impact of the Langeloth Foundation’s Behavioral Health – Criminal Justice Portfolio, gathered the policy agenda proposal and consensus action recommendations developed by the 29 national experts at the 2011 meeting at John Jay College and developed Responding to the Needs of an Aging Prison Population. This brief discusses the growth of elderly prisoners and the need for this growth to be considered from behavioral, medical, and social perspectives.

The work of Dr. Williams, Dr. Greifinger, and their peers is timely.  The challenges posed by an aging prison population are the subject of a recent ACLU report, At America’ s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly.  This report outlines the consequences of this aging prison population, as well as some recommendations for addressing this challenge.  Responding to the Needs of an Aging Prison Population is an excellent supplement to this report, discussing additional recommendations, including those that ensure the safety and well-being of this demographic.

What is the future of treatment, rehabilitation, and correction of the elderly in America’s prison system? Is our current structure sustainable, fiscally or architecturally, to adapt to this demographic while also addressing the continued incarceration of individuals below age 55?

Please visit SAMHSA’s GAINS Center’s website to download Responding to the Needs of an Aging Prison Population. To request a hard copy of this brief, please email email hidden; JavaScript is required.  For more information about this publication and the work of Dr. Williams and Dr. Greifinger, please contact them:

Brie Williams, MD
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Robert B. Greifinger, MD
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Learn more about the aging prison population:

The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly
https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/elderlyprisonreport_20120613_1.pdf

Graying Prisons: States Face Challenges of an Aging Inmate Population
http://www.csg.org/knowledgecenter/docs/sn0611GrayingPrisons.pdf

Elderly Inmates: Aging Prison Population Strains Tight State Budgets
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/elderly-inmates_n_1236028.html

Elderly Inmate Population Soared 1,300 Percent Since 1980s: Report
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/elderly-inmate-population-soars_n_1594793.html

Aging Prison Population Poses Unique Challenges
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130837434

Behavioral health, Criminal justice, Jails & Prisons