Aging inmates straining prison systems

By , August 17, 2010 11:53 am

Connell, Wash. — Curtis Ballard rides a motorized wheelchair around his prison ward, which happens to be the new assisted living unit — a place of many windows and no visible steel bars — at Washington’s Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.

A stroke left Ballard unable to walk. He’s also had a heart attack and he underwent a procedure to remove skin cancer from his neck. At 77, he’s been in prison since 1993 for murder. He has 14 years left on his sentence.

Ballard is among the national surge in elderly inmates whose medical expenses are straining cash-strapped states and have officials looking for solutions, including early release, some possibly to nursing homes. Ballard says he’s fine where he is.

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“I’d be a burden on my kids,” said the native Texan. “I’d rather be a burden to these people.”

That burden is becoming greater as the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that elderly prisoners — the fastest growing segment of the prison population, largely because of tough sentencing laws — are three times more expensive to incarcerate than younger inmates.

The ACLU estimates that it costs about $72,000 to house an elderly inmate for a year, compared to $24,000 for a younger prisoner.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of men and women in state and federal prisons age 55 and older grew 76 percent between 1999 and 2008, the latest year available, from 43,300 to 76,400. The growth of the entire prison population grew only 18 percent in that period.

“We’re reaping the fruits of bad public policy like Three Strikes laws and other mandatory minimum sentencing laws,” said David C. Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, D.C. “One in 11 prisoners is serving a life sentence.”

via Aging inmates straining prison systems | detnews.com | The Detroit News.

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