Upswing in aging prison inmate
By Jean Mikle/The Asbury Park Press
TRENTON — Convicted of three counts of robbery when he was still a young man, Steven Thomas has been in prison since December 1982. Now 62, frail and suffering from a relapse of Hepatitis C, he’s one of an increasing number of inmates in New Jersey’s correctional institutions who have grown old behind bars.
“I did a robbery when I was 27, 26 years old, and I’ve been locked up ever since,” Thomas told the Asbury Park Press while sitting at the edge of his hospital bed in a hospice unit at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. “I wouldn’t want to die here.”
Since 2000, the number of prisoners over age 50 in New Jersey’s state prisons has jumped nearly 90 percent. Now nearly 3,000 older prisoners are in the state’s eight adult correctional institutions.
The older prisoner population has continued to soar even as the number of adult offenders incarcerated in New Jersey state prisons has declined by 7 percent since 2009, to about 17,000 last year, according to state Department of Corrections figures.
Older prisoners are also the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison population. An estimated 246,000 people over 50 were behind bars last year, according to a 2012 American Civil Liberties Union report.
The growing number of older prisoners, like Thomas, represents a potential fiscal time bomb for the state and nation: Elderly prisoners cost more because almost all expenses related to their health care must be borne by state tax dollars.
If it costs New Jersey an average of $71,000 to care for each elderly inmate, as one study suggests, that would cost taxpayers $21.3 million — about double the cost for the same number of younger, healthy inmates.
Some states, including Louisiana, have moved to make it easier for older, nonviolent offenders to be released early, while others have created separate housing accommodations. …. Read more there!
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