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ACLU to States: Revise Policies to Save Billions on Elderly Prisoners ACLU to States: Revise Policies to Save Billions on Elderly Prisoners

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ACLU to States: Revise Policies to Save Billions on Elderly Prisoners


Releasing select seniors could cut state costs by $66,294 per person. States currently spend $16 billion incarcerating elderly prisoners, according to the ACLU report.(ACLU/Tim Gruber)

Blacks and Hispanics are significantly overrepresented in the overall elderly U.S. prison population, a group that is expected to increase by an astonishing 4,400 percent between 1981 and 2030, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

It’s a bleak look at a bloated U.S. prison system, which has grown more than 11 times faster than the total population. The number of inmates over 50 is growing even faster, the ACLU says, and states are spending more than $16 billion incarcerating and caring for elderly inmates, despite “overwhelming evidence” that older inmates are less likely to commit another crime than younger prisoners.

On average, states could save $66,294 per year for every released elderly inmate, the report found.

“Elderly” inmates are defined as prisoners older than 50 who have been subject to unhealthy conditions before and during incarceration, since inmates are considered to age psychologically faster in prison.

With this definition, there are about 246,600 elderly prisoners across the country, according to the report.

While the population of prisoners over 50 is mostly white (42 percent), African-Americans and Hispanics combined make up about 48 percent of that population. 

About half of both black and Hispanic prisoners over 50 are between 50 and 54, while 45 percent of white prisoners fall in this category, indicating that black and Hispanics tended to skew younger than their white cohorts.

However,  in general, blacks and Hispanics make up a larger percentage of the aging prison population than of the general U.S. population, the report noted.

About 38 percent of the total prison population is black, and 22 percent is Hispanic. In the total U.S. population, blacks make up just 12.6 percent and Hispanics make up 16.3 percent, according to the census.

Of note, however, is that the largest subcategory of aging prisoners over 50, regardless of race or gender, fell between 50 to 54,  spotlighting the importance of reconsidering what it means to be “elderly” in prison. This is an especially significant distinction when considering any reforms, ACLU said.

The report also found that the aging population was largely incarcerated when they were young and are serving long prison sentences. Most prisoners were sentenced between the ages of 20 and 29; most elderly prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes such as burglary or theft, the report contends.

The report urges state governments to implement parole hearings for elderly prisoners to evaluate whether they pose a threat to society.

“We as a country are very trigger-happy in terms of throwing people into prison for very, very long sentences without thinking why,” Inimai Chettiar, one of the report’s lead authors, told “We need to introduce proportionality into sentencing here. Is the punishment fitting the crime?”

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