Prisons managing growing numbers of senior inmates

A new study by Human Rights Watch says one of the fastest-growing age demographics in American prisons are those age 55 and over.

As reported by Time Magazine, between 1995 and 2010, the over-55 prison population, as a proportion of the overall prison population, ballooned from three per cent to eight per cent. That growth was six times faster than average. But despite those expanding numbers, experts say that prisons are having some difficulty adjusting.

“Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities,” Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, told Time Magazine. “Yet U.S. corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars.”

According to the news source, there are two major reasons for the increase: more life sentences, meaning that people who were imprisoned while young remain in jail for many years, as well as an increase in the number of people convicted of crimes over the age of 50.

One of the experts told the media outlet that one of the major challenges for prisons in dealing with aging inmates is not the age itself, but some of the associated health issues.

“Dementia can set in, and an inmate who was formerly easy to manage becomes very difficult to manage,” A.T. Wall from the Association of State Correctional Administrators, told Time. Still, there are only about 125,000 people aged 55 and over in American prisons, a tiny percentage of the overall retirement living age bracket.