Jailed Seniors Cost Americans $16 Billion Per Year

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By 2030, inmates over the age of 50 are expected to make up almost a third of the total projected prison population.

Anthony Marshall, 89, is the oldest person ever sent to a New York prison for a nonviolent crime.

That’s according to NBC News, whose interest was piqued by the growing trend of older defendants. “Prisoners older than 55 make up the single fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison community,” it says.

Nearly a quarter million people over the age of 50 were in a cell last year, NBC says. By 2030, they’re expected to make up almost a third of the total projected prison population.

Zealous sentencing may be to blame. Legal expert Inimai Chettiar told NBC that it has become more common for offenses that were once considered low priority to command strict and harsh sentences. For instance, Marshall could have been given house arrest or probation instead, she said.

Incarcerating people isn’t cheap, but it’s especially expensive for those with failing health. State and federal prisons spend an estimated $16 billion a year keeping the elderly behind bars, NBC says. While the numbers vary, there’s no mistaking the vast difference in cost between younger and older prisoners.

In Georgia, the average annual medical cost for inmates younger than 65 is $961, NBC says. For seniors, it’s $8,565. In North Carolina, medical care for elderly prisoners costs four times what it does for those younger than 50.

Some states are considering measures that would get those expensive prisoners off the taxpayers’ back, NBC says, by allowing parole hearings for low-risk older inmates. Louisiana passed such a law in 2011.

What do you think? Should elderly prisoners get special treatment in light of their higher cost? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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