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Aging offenders

If you are involved with older inmates, you should read this publication. While it is focused on Great Britain, it contains a wealth of information pertinent to the management of elderly offenders. “This resource pack was created so that peer support workers, disability liaison officers, older offender and wing officers could use its contents to implement good practice ideas and set up activities in their establishments for older prisoners … The pack should also be used to raise awareness among colleagues of the health problems the older prisoner population is prone to and of some of the practical things they can do to make their lives easier” (p. 5). It is divided into four parts. Part 1. Background: facts and figures; what it is like to be an older person in prison; and reviews of conditions for older prisoners. Part 2. Health and Health Aging: normal ageing and its symptoms; what is affected by normal ageing; how to age healthily; and recognizing and responding to illnesses common among older prisoners—back pain, cancer, breast cancer, prostrate cancer, skin cancer, dementia, depression, diabetes, glaucoma, hypertension, incontinence, menopause, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, and shingles. Part 3. Good Practice Ideas: environment adaptations, visits and visitors, and an officer for older prisoners; activities; healthcare; and resettlement. Part 4. Information and Advice: general; activities, learning, and exercise; disability and rehabilitation; employment; finance; health, illness, and disease; housing; and welfare.

› A Resource Pack for Working with Older Prisoners Cover

"The number of prisoners age 55 or older sentenced to more than 1 year in state prison increased 400% between 1993 and 2013, from 26,300 (3% of the total state prison population) in 1993 to 131,500 (10% of the total population) in 2013"1

Older adults in prison often exhibit physical and mental health problems, including dementia, and histories of trauma and chronic stress. Over 3,000 of these men and women will die each year in prison.2

Listed below are resources related to the needs, policies, programs, and legal issues of aging in prison.

  1. 1 (Carson & Sabol, 2016) [From Aging Of The State Prison Population, 1993-2013]
  2. 2 (James & Glaze, 2006; Maruschak, 2008; Maschi, Kwak, Ko, & Morrissey, 2012). [From Aging Prisoners: A Crisis in Need of Intervention, Fordham University, 2012.] 

© Photo by Jessica Earnshaw

The problems surrounding the imprisonment of elderly offenders are examined. The key legal and policy challenges concerning older prisoners covered are: early and compassionate release; segregation or integration; the meaning of imprisonment in old age and its legal implications; fixed versus tailored sentences; and if prison is the right place to confine older offenders. The authors conclude with a discussion of whether there is a need for “age specific” legal policy for older inmates.

Aging Prisoners: A Brief Report of Key Legal and Policy Dilemmas Copy

An exploratory report regarding the management of aging and infirm inmates is presented. Six chapters follow an executive summary:

  • Introduction;
  • What we know about elderly, chronically ill, and terminally ill inmates;
  • Effective evaluation for identifying the special needs of inmates;
  • Program, housing, and treatment considerations;
  • Ethical and policy considerations for the care of elderly and infirm inmates;
  • And conclusion.

Appendixes include: Criminal Justice Institute Survey-Managing the Needs of Aging Inmates and Inmates With Chronic and Terminal Illnesses; site-visit reports; and site visit checklist.


Correctional Health Care: Addressing the Needs of Elderly, Chronically Ill, and Terminally Ill Inmates Cover

This 3-hour program will interest anyone dealing with geriatric offenders. Issues covered during this presentation include:

  • Who geriatric offenders are
  • Awareness of their needs
  • Staff training
  • And special considerations for this population.

Participants will be able to: develop criteria to identify geriatric offenders; describe challenges and options for training staff and improving day to day operations to better manage this population; identify strategies, including stand-alone and integrated approaches, to address geriatric offenders’ needs; and identify sources of information and technical support for developing and implementing programs and services for geriatric offenders.

Effectively Managing Aging and Geriatric Offenders Cover

This report, “based upon a statutory review of geriatric release provisions…offers recommendations for responding to the disparities between geriatric release policies and practice” (p.2). Agencies will want to look this document over to see if they are compliant with their own geriatric release laws. These sections follow an executive summary: introduction; background; state approaches to releasing older inmates vary; examining the gap between intent and impact; recommendations; and conclusion.

It’s About Time: Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release Cover

Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, is difficult to detect in a population often afflicted with other mental illnesses and maladaptive social behaviors. During this interactive webinar we will explore how symptoms and behaviors can be misconstrued and identify environmental risk factors that can contribute to costly accidents and injury for inmates with dementia.

We will also take an in-depth look at the Gold Coat program based at the California Men's Colony State Prison in San Luis Obispo. This model consists of healthy inmates specially trained to care for those with dementia and other cognitive impairments, who are designated by the gold smocks they wear.

The experiences of former Gold Coats will reveal a working rehabilitative program, a true model of reform that can provide skills for meaningful employment while caring for those who cannot help themselves. Every facility is different with unique needs. During the webinar, we will provide a foundation for developing a self-contained model to meet the needs of cognitively impaired inmates while healthy inmates gain valuable, marketable skills.

Utilizing images, narratives and interactive exercises, panelists will explore the challenges of aging in prison with a focus on dementia care.

Focus areas include: What Happens to the Brain When Dementia / Alzheimer's Strikes; 10 Warning Signs; Effective Communication Strategies; Activities of Daily Living (ADLs); Alternative Environmental Programming; and Building a Successful Dementia Program.

At the conclusion of the webinar, participants will be able to: Paraphrase their own working knowledge of dementia, in particular Alzheimer's Disease; Describe how symptoms and behaviors can be misconstrued as maladaptive behavior; Identify environmental risk factors that can contribute to costly accidents and injury for inmates with dementia; and Give examples of tools to develop a method to reduce risk factors, promote effective programming and provide cost effective care.

Losing Time Cover

This program discusses Information regarding current policies and procedures and their impact on aging offenders and offenders with chronic and terminal illnesses. While focusing upon "best practices and interventions," this program discusses:

  • Differences between the needs of aging and terminally ill inmates;
  • Management strategies;
  • Internal and external challenges, such as staffing, supervision, treatment standards, compassionate release provisions, housing, and hospice care;
  • Selecting and training inmate caregivers;
  • Legal issues, such as advance directives and constitutional standards of care;
  • And appropriate programming resources.
Managing Aging and Terminally Ill Inmates[Videoconference held on September 12, 2001] Cover

"The elderly offender is still treated as distinctly marginal and remains more or less peripheral to policy and advocacy within most correctional jurisdictions. Where innovative practices have emerged, it is typically because of the local efforts of determined correctional professionals, often in partnership with the voluntary sector. Despite their increasing numbers, elderly offenders have not yet attained visibility as a national or international policy issue in corrections" (p. 18-19). This document discusses issues impacting the managing of senior inmates and offers suggestions on how to meet those challenges. Sections address: the scope of the problem; what is causing this problem of the graying of the prisoner population; the aging prisoner population—significant consequences and possible responses; managing the health care needs of the elderly prisoner; coping and adaptation to prison life for the elderly; types of stressors for the elderly in corrections; supporting the terminally ill and dying elderly in prisons; duties regularly performed by inmate caregivers; reintegration of the elderly offender back to the community; and a framework for best practice programming for the elderly offender. Appendixes include: "'True Grit': Description of a Model Correctional Program for the Elderly Offender"; and "UNODC Recommendations: Handbook on Prisoners with Special Needs".

Managing the Elderly in Corrections Cover

"The immense costs of incarceration have increasingly framed the conversation around reducing the prison population as a matter of fiscal responsibility and budgetary necessity. This discussion is often centered around reducing the arrest and prosecution of so-called “non-violent drug offenders.” But these issues belie a much more pressing human and economic concern: the aging prison population, whose costs for incarceration and care will soon prove unsustainable if meaningful action is not taken. And though prison is expensive, cost is far from the only justification to move away from our reliance on incarceration, as the continued long-term incarceration of aging citizens has serious moral, ethical, public health, and public safety implications" (p. 1). This paper explains how agencies might go about effectively addressing these issues. Sections following an executive summary address: the threat facing the United States—economic costs, health impact, strain on correctional systems, social costs and public safety, and the roots of the crisis; from the inside out—meeting the needs of the aging within prisons—six innovative programs; the question of parole; the reentry experience—five viable strategies; the work to be done within correctional facilities, release mechanisms, and post-release services; and toward a new paradigm of punishment. "The interconnected complexity of the aging prisoner crisis demands a strategic response that is versatile and multifaceted, and that seeks to address the issue at multiple points of intervention with involvement from all stakeholders. The fields of gerontology, philanthropy, health, and corrections are uniquely positioned and qualified collectively to inform and implement both short- and long-term solutions to this issue. Armed with critical interdisciplinary knowledge and backed by investment from the philanthropic community, such a collaborative partnership possesses unparalleled opportunity to make lasting contributions to the policies and best practices affecting the aging prison population. This joint stakeholder alliance is particularly well-suited to enrich the reentry process, first by identifying those factors that formerly incarcerated elders need to thrive upon their release to the community and subsequently creating resources and pathways for success. Such an approach would not only yield tremendous cost savings, improved public health outcomes, and economic growth, but would also embody a commitment to human rights—including the freedom for our elders to live the remainder of their lives within their communities and to die with grace in the presence of friends and family" (p. 14-15).

The High Costs of Low Risk: The Crisis of America's Aging Prison Population cover


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