Today’s Washington Post tackles Virginia’s problem with aging inmates:
Deerfield, Virginia’s only geriatric prison, is where the state’s inmates are sent to grow old. They’re transferred to this facility in Capron, near the North Carolina border, when they’re too weak to stand or feed themselves, when they don’t have much time left.
Since the General Assembly abolished parole for the newly convicted in 1995, the number of elderly inmates in custody has soared. In 1990, there were 900 inmates over the age of 50. Now there are more than 5,000. Deerfield Correctional, which once housed 400 inmates, has become a 1,000-bed facility with a long waiting list.
Jamelle Bouie offers his take on this:
I understand the logic of incarcerating the elderly — a murder committed 40 years ago is still a murder — but it’s hard to see the enterprise as anything other than absurd. Crime is a game for the young; the vast majority of crimes are committed by men in their late teens and 20s. Criminal behavior drops sharply drops after age 30 and enters a permanent tailspin after late middle age. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2009, fewer than 1 percent of all crimes are attributable to those 60 and older. Assuming you could weed out the most dangerous inmates from those who are basically harmless, it makes the most sense to just release prisoners once they reach 65; at that point, they are well past the peak years for criminal behavior. If that’s too radical, you could mandate the possibility of parole for any inmate serving a life sentence, or one that would leave them imprisoned past the age of 60.
People are, rightfully, distressed about the moral paradox that results from keeping very old men and women (many of whom are living with dementia and all of whom significantly disabled) in prison for crimes that were committed more than half a century ago.
Our society also has a problem with the involuntary institutionalization of older people whose only crime is frailty. You wouldn’t know it from the media but the second problem dwarfs the first.