Elderly Inmate Population Growth: Multiple Perspectives

Scott E. Burns, University of Florida

As the eldest baby-boomers begin retirement, addressing associated problems with this large, and expanding age group has become salient in all areas of government. This is especially true for federal and state prison agencies. As the elderly population in the greater society continues to grow, the population of incarcerated elderly will grow as well. Between 1981 and 1990 the population of elderly inmates more than doubled. For the sixteen southernmost states of the U.S. it was reported that the number of inmates over the age of 50 increased by 480 percent between 1985 and 1997. In comparison, the total inmate population for these states increased by only 147 percent for the same time span. Currently, the population of inmates aged 50 or older is estimated at 125,000 with 35,000 over the age of 65. The problem that this growth presents are due to the particular requirements of this population. Like the aged in greater society, elderly prisoners have greater, more specialized needs than their younger counterparts. In addition to costly healthy care, diverse physical, psychological, and social needs of the elderly inmate must also be met. This study has been designed to examine current and proposed efforts at providing solutions to the problems that this growing population represents. Through personal interviews with security personnel, correctional administrators, state officials, and elderly inmates a unique perspective is presented that reflects concerns from all facets of the correctional system.

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Updated 05/20/2006