|Picture from ACLU|
Many new adjustments to the American prison system over the last 30 years have greatly altered the amount of individuals who are currently serving time in prison. These reasons include the implementation of “laws that increased the likelihood and length of prison sentences, including by establishing mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws, and by increasing the number of crimes punished with life and life without- parole sentences. In addition... the legislators sought to increase the amount of time prisoners would serve in prison before release, for example by establishing truth-in-sentencing conditions that require 85 percent or more of a prison sentence be served before the inmate becomes eligible for release, and by making some crimes ineligible for parole.” The preceding reasons explain not only why the amount of prisoners in general has grew so greatly since 1980 but also why there is such a large influx of the elderly in prison. All of these new strict policies plague the aging and dying individuals to be stuck with their sentences regardless of how close they are to death. Do these individuals deserve this? Now, one may consider that with an influx of prisoners in total, the elderly inmates would be proportional to the younger inmates. This, however, is completely false. The rate of elderly prisoners from 1995 to 2010 has been “growing by 282 percent compared to a 42.1 percent increase in the prison population.” This extreme statistic shows how this problem will not soon diminish on its own. Without action soon, these many elders will be doomed to horrid conditions and a lack of just treatment due to diminishing budgets and lack of a formidable system which allows the proper care of the elderly to be taken. From the graph below, one can see that these numbers are not a fluke and just between 2007 and 2010 how great the influx really is for the elderly inmates.
|Image From Old Behind Bars|
|Found on Gabriel City|
In prison, proving your dominance over other prisoners is key to survival and showing you’re not an open target. The weak are always the first to be targeted in the prison system because weak and non combative prey is always the easiest target. These actions on the weak “can range in gravity from homicide, severe physical assaults, and vicious rapes to more minor acts of harassment, extortion, theft, or humiliation.” Where does this leave the prey, particularly the elderly? These once young, spry, and fiery youth have become more obedient and mellow individuals with age. It is difficult, if not impossible for these aged individuals to prove a formidable opponent for a young aggressor. Human Rights Watch found that “corrections officials and incarcerated men and women we interviewed agreed that the elderly as a group are far less likely to cause trouble than younger inmates." They don’t “mess with staff,” they “just want to be left alone,” and they “get along better with each other than younger guys.” These individuals seem to be much more concerned about just doing their time rather than causing trouble for the officers or other inmates. Thus, these elderly and weak individuals can fall prey to young and selfish youth who are concerned little of the treatment of others, including their elders. Despite the watchful eye of the prison officials, many demeaning and wrongful behavior occurs behind bars. Do these suffering elderly deserve this? What can be a solution for this problem? Some suggest that “the right to safe conditions of confinement may mean not being required to live in a dorm with younger persons prone to violence and extortion.” This would require current prison systems to make a major adjustment to current situations which are in place in present prisons. Such radical adjustments to the current prison system would require a massive amount of funding in order to sufficiently develop a system capable of segregating the elderly. Thus, great support for the movement would be required to cause enough notice for change. Below is a video of Terry Campbell, a man whom is serving life in prison for first degree murder at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. Campbell, who already has 44 years of incarceration under his belt, is 65 years old and dwindling in the prison system. Campbell talks about how his prison life at first involved gang affiliations and violence, later on moving to a more peaceful life in prison due to the consideration of one prison guard.
|Elderly inmate battling lung cancer in prison hospice. |
Image from Global Action on Aging
|Image From Mije.org|
Duffin, Christian. "Doing Time: Health Care In The Criminal Justice System." Nursing Older People 22.10 (2010): 14-18. Academic Search Complete. Print.
Mitka, Mike. "Aging Prisoners Stressing Health Care System." JAMA: Journal Of The American Medical Association 292.4 (2004): 423-424. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2012