Aging Prisoners: A Strain on Public Facilities and a Threat to Private Interests


By Daniel Jasper, Staff Editor

In a newly released report, Human Rights Watch highlights the growing number of elderly inmates within the U.S. prison system.  The report found that the prison population of those aged 65 years and over grew by 65 percent between 2007 and 2010, while the prison population of those aged 55 years and over grew by 285 percent between 1995 and 2010. It should come as no surprise that prison facilities where not built with geriatric care in mind, and the growing number of elderly prisoners may lack sufficient medial attention. On top of that, the costly measures taken to provide care for prisoners that require medical attention are undoubtedly putting a strain on state and federal budgets.

The study, however, is far from shocking, as it only illustrates an overall trend found within the U.S. prison system.  More people are being put in jail, longer sentences are being given, and harsher penalties are being doled out for previously minor offenses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of total U.S. prisoners has increased from 773,919 in 1990 to 1,613,740 in 2009, an increase of 108%.  This puts the U.S. at number one in the world for most prisoners incarcerated.

This growing number of prisoners is not only putting a financial strain on the U.S. budget, but it is also alarming human rights activists and calling into question the causes of these startling increases. Many point to the privatized prison system as a driving cause of these disturbing trends. A report put out last November by Public Campaign demonstrates how, like every other business, it is in the interest of these corporations to ensure repeat or perpetual customers, and the for-profit prison industry does so by lobbying for longer sentences and increased penalties for lesser crimes. Now that many of their patrons are aging, it should be of particular interest to the public how the for-profit prison model will adapt to find new patrons. The new model won't just cost money; it might cost someone you know 10 to 15 years.

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