The NYT has an article on what happens when people stay in jail for life.
The get-tough-on-crime and mandatory sentencing policies that swept America beginning in the 1970s did more than drive up the inmate population and prison costs. They also ensured that inmates who once might have been seen as rehabilitated and given parole would grow old and even die behind bars. As a result, prisons are struggling to furnish costly, specialized care to ever more inmates who suffer from age-related infirmities, especially dementia
It makes me wonder what the use of prison could be when the prisoner does not know where he or she is. It seems like vengeance is the operating principle in these cases.
Vengeance is about retaliation and retribution. It is a dangerous and very powerful feeling that can make people lose or misplace their values and understanding. Rarely has it played any constructive role in any nation, state or family. Vengeance very often destroys the avenger as well as the victim.
Many inmates, obviously, can never be released, and they will continue to require special care. But the states must pursue other avenues as well. They can foster partnerships between prisons and nursing homes to improve the quality of care; consider compassionate release programs for frail inmates who no longer present a threat to public safety; and, no less important, revisit the mandatory sentencing policies that did away with judicial discretion and filled the prisons to bursting in the first place
This seems about right.