Friday, November 26, 2010

Geriatric Prisoners and Soaring Prison Health Care Costs

Geriatric prisoners represent the fast growing segment of prison population. This is in spite of the fact that prisoners age out of crime. The older the prisoner the less likely that she would re-offend. This is not to mention the ailing and elderly inmate who can hardly care for himself let alone victimize another person.

Why are geriatric prisoners on the rise? The criminal justice system tends to increase penalties based on an offender's past criminal behavior not his potential for future criminal behavior. Older offenders tend to have a history of criminal activity, even though their likelihood of future offending may be low. A young offender, with little time to establish a history of criminal activity, and a much higher likelihood of offending will receive a shorter sentence than an aged offender.

What are the implications for a system that imposes its harshest punishment on the group least likely to re-offend? First, is prison crowding. When you fill up prisons with inmates who may not be a risk to society and couple that with violent offenders who have caused harm to society, prisons tend to fill up quickly, and then stay filled.

Second, those old and infirm inmates cost a lot of money. In Kentucky, the department of corrections is paying $20,000,000 a year on geriatric inmates. Currently, the law in Kentucky provides for the release of a terminally ill inmate within a year of dying.

According to WAVE-TV, some in Kentucky, including State Senator Kathy Stein, have fought for laws that would ease rules on medical parole to include inmates who are not deemed a threat. Stein believes the money saved could be shifted to other areas, like education.

But her bill was opposed by state prosecutors, including Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel, and ultimately defeated.

"If you go on and start cutting these people loose that undercuts the whole system," Stengel told WAVE-TV. "And I think it short changes the victims of crime."

Prison health care costs are skyrocketing. State budgets are foundering. And that's fueling a debate on whether policymakers should release prisoners with serious medical conditions in order to cut health care costs and save taxpayer dollars. WAVE-TV asks a pointed question, is the criminal justice system forcing prisoners to pay their debt to society or forcing society to pay to comfort those inmates in their dying days?

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