In Pennsylvania, 483 state inmates have died since January 2015. That’s about 180 deaths in prison each year. From 2005 to 2014, the average was 150 deaths per year, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
That increase is a byproduct, officials say, of the extraordinarily fast-growing elderly population in prison. In 2001, there were 1,892 geriatric inmates in Pennsylvania (ages 55 or older). Today, that’s more than tripled to 6,458. The leading causes of death in the state’s prisons are heart disease, cancer and liver disease. Caring for this population is extraordinarily expensive: It’s estimated that elderly inmates cost three to nine times more than young ones. Compassionate release, meanwhile, is granted to just a few inmates each year.But since 2004, families of dying inmates at SCI Graterford have had the small comfort of knowing they will not die alone. The prison provides hospice for dying inmates. There is just one nurse on staff at the 23-bed infirmary, and visitors are allowed only an hour a day, but volunteers man the hospice on 24-hour vigils, sometimes caring for two or three inmates at once.
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