Thursday, 8 October 2015

Ageing in Prison

“Our federal prisons are starting to resemble nursing homes surrounded with razor wire. It makes no sense fiscally, or from the perspective of human compassion, to incarcerate men and women who pose no threat to public safety and have long since paid for their crime. We need to repeal the absurd mandatory minimum sentences that keep them there.”
Julie Stewart, president and founder of 'Families Against Mandatory Minimums

“Why are we keeping someone behind bars who is bedridden and needs assistance to get out of bed and feed and clothe himself? What do we gain from keeping people behind bars at an enormous cost when they no longer pose any danger to the public if they were released?”
Jamie Fellner, Human Rights Watch

“Prisons simply are not physically designed to accommodate the infirmities that come with age. There are countless ways that the aging inmates, some with dementia, bump up against the prison culture. It is difficult to climb to the upper bunk, walk up stairs, wait outside for pills, take showers in facilities without bars and even hear the commands to stand up for count or sit down when you’re told.”
Jamie Fellner, senior advisor at Human Rights Watch
Today, inmates 50 and older are the fastest growing population in correctional facilities. From 2009 to 2013, their percentage increased by 25% (via). Since 2014, the number has increased 330% and prisoners over 50 make up about 18% of the prison population in the U.S.; figures are expected to rise to 28% by 2019. According to a report, this is the fastest growing age group because a) people enter prison at an older age as part of the ageing society and b) people are growing old in jail as prison sentences became longer during a certain period (via). Some prisons have reacted to demographic changes and set up geriatric wards. A great many inmates are seriously ill, require around-the-clock medical care and finally die in prison. Health care expenses for prisoners increased 55% from 2006 to 2013 and are now equivalent to the budget of the U.S. Marshals Service or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The spiraling costs can surely be spent more wisely once the federal prison population is reduced (via). Per-older prisoner cost is put at double that of a younger offender and can be as much as five times the average amount. Medical issues can easily multiply at any age in prison since "the 'physiological' age of the average prisoner - due to the stress of being incarcerated - can be as much as 15 years higher than their actual age" (via).
"This facility mirrors a hospital more than a prison. We provide long-term care."Kenneth McKoy, assistant to a warden at Butner (prison)
“Inmates get very good care here. But on the outside, maybe you would give a patient a hug or he would hug you. Here, you have to be able to maintain your borders. It’s a prison.”
Michael Renshaw, clinical nurse and corrections officer

Photograph above: Bruce Harrison, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran from Tampa, is shown during an interview inside Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Florida. The grandfather was sentenced to nearly 50 years in prison and has been incarcerated for the past 21 years (literally via). Harrison was caught up in a drug sting in 1994.

Photograph below: Luis Anthony Rivera, a 58-year-old from Miami who has been imprisoned for 30 years, works in the commissary at Coleman. Rivera, a former pilot and an artist, was charged with federal drug offenses (literally via). He is sentenced to life plus 140 years for "conspiracy to import cocaine".

In the 1980s and 1990s, during the years marked by the "war on drugs", harsh sentences were introduced with mandatory minimums. Harrison and Rivera are just two examples. Now, federal sentencing guidelines have been revised and prison terms have become less severe (via). In addition, the Justice Department has just decided to release about 6.000 inmates early from prison - mainly because of overcrowding and over-incarceration. 46.000 of the 100.000 drug offenders who received harsh sentences during the "war on drugs" qualify for early release, the 6.000 will be the first tranche in this process. This will be the largest one-time release of federal prisoners (via) and the decision is very much welcomed by the United Nations (via). Currently, the U.S. has less than 5% of the world population but almost 25% of the world's prison population (via). That certainly has implications for the ageing population in prison.

Photograph below: Michael E. Hodge, 51, sits in his wheelchair during an interview at Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina. Hodge submitted several requests for compassionate release over the past few years, but none were approved by officials. He died April 18, according to prison records (literally via). Hodge was sentenced to 20 years for possessing and distributing marijuana and possessing a gun. He died of liver cancer in prison.

photographs Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via and via and via and via and via