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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

This report summarises the proceedings of the two-day meeting the ICRC organised in December 2016 on the needs of older prisoners. The meeting saw the participation of experts with practical experience of legal, ethical, health-care and management issues concerning older detainees. The experts' presentations and the plenary discussions, as well as a number of recommendations that emerged, are reported in detail. 

"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

This is the sixth analysis in a series examining how health care is funded and delivered in state-run prisons, as well as how care continuity is facilitated upon release. Prison populations are shrinking, reflecting a decade-long movement by states to enact policies that reverse corrections growth, contain costs, and keep crime rates low. At the end of 2016, fewer people were held in state and federal prisons than in any year since 2004.

But despite this overall reduction, one group in prisons is surging: older individuals. From 1999 to 2016, the number of people 55 or older in state and federal prisons increased 280 percent. During the same period, the number of younger adults grew merely 3 percent. As a result, older inmates swelled from 3 percent of the total prison population to 11 percent.

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

The unremitting growth of older inmates in prison populations is one of the most pressing concerns in federal corrections today; however, empirical research on the topic says little about the causes of these changes. This article addresses this gap by applying an established methodology to analyze and quantify the contributions of key factors driving the growth of aging federal prison populations. Specifically, we use data from the Federal Justice Statistics Program (FJSP) to determine how changes to prisoner age at entry, rate of entry, and rate of exit have shaped the prison population over recent decades. Overall, we find that from 1994 to 2004, rapid increases in the rate of prisoner admission explain the majority of growth in the elderly population, but that since 2004, age at admission has been much more important, with longer time served and rate of admission also playing a role. These influences appear to be quite different from those shaping state prison populations. Our results suggest optimal policy responses to aging populations will need to be tailored to their jurisdiction.

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.


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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

Compassionate release allows prisoners facing imminent death, advancing age, or debilitating medical conditions to secure early release when those developments diminish the need for or morality of continued imprisonment. At FAMM, we routinely hear from prisoners and their loved ones seeking information about how to secure compassionate release. We have listened to heart-wrenching stories of families like Lynn and Bernie’s trying to help sick and dying prisoners navigate an absurdly complicated and confusing process for release. They do not understand how to ask for compassionate release or interpret eligibility criteria. They encounter walls of silence and endure lengthy delays. Most are turned down

There is a dearth of knowledge on the role of cumulative trauma, stress, and minority oppression on recidivism among incarcerated elder population. The current study fills a gap in the literature by exploring the association between race, trauma, offense history, and recidivism among incarcerated elders. This study used a cross-sectional correlational design with 607 adult males aged 50 and older in a Northeastern state correctional system. Results of a series of moderation analyses revealed that drug offense history had a significant moderating effect on the relationship between trauma and recidivism. However, minority status or violent offense history was not found to be a significant moderator of the trauma and recidivism relationship. These findings suggest prevention and intervention efforts would benefit from incorporating trauma-informed approaches and principles of restorative justice that facilitate individual, family, and community healing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)


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