Aging Prison Population - National Commission on Correctional Health Care
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Aging Prison Population

Report Examines Trends in U.S. Aging Prison Population

A new report from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging examines trends in the U.S. aging prison population and finds that only 9% of social service organizations that provide support for older adults have programs for older prisoners or people being released.

America’s prison population is aging rapidly. Between 2007 and 2010 the number of state and federal prisoners age 65 and older grew at a rate 94 times the overall prison population, making it the fastest growing demographic. The increase can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the aging of the overall U.S. population, longer prison terms due to factors such as mandatory sentencing and an increase in the number of older people committing crimes.

The result is the criminal justice system, which has been traditionally focused on serving a younger inmate population, now houses an older population, many of whom have chronic health conditions or physical disabilities and may need assistance with bathing, dressing, eating and other aspects of personal care.

The impact of the incarceration of older prisoners is not confined to their prison term. Older prisoners, once released, experience unique challenges. They may lack social support after long-term imprisonment, which, combined with physical health issues or chronic diseases, results in a need for increased social services support. Some older prisoners being released need residential support in assisted living or nursing homes, although placement can present challenges. They may also have outdated job skills, which drives financial instability by hindering employment opportunities. They may also experience challenges accessing public benefits and services due to factors such as lack of current photo identification or state laws barring participation in certain benefit programs (e.g., the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

The challenges and opportunities associated with the burgeoning U.S. aging prisoner population have gained more attention in recent years with increases in research and media coverage. With funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, the report examines trends in the U.S. aging prison population and focuses on the role of the Area Agencies on Aging in helping to address the needs of this population.