Monday, February 13, 2012

Aging in Prison By: Quinton Riter

Picture from ACLU
When an individual commits a particularly heinous crime, they are usually ordered to a lengthy sentence which strips the person of many, if not all, of their precious adult years.  For many free citizens, this seems to be the end of problem.  The solution has been set in place; the individuals are out of the vulnerable public and locked away to serve their determined sentence.  However, with many of the baby boomer individuals maturing into their golden years, they are beginning to require extra care which the prison systems are struggling to accommodate.  The present prison facilities were never designed to house such old and frail individuals.  The daily regimen was not centered around the elderly individuals and their aging bodies.  Studies show that the prison lifestyle accelerates the aging process by an average of 11.5 years.  Since these maturing individuals are more susceptible to disease and ailment, “older prisoners incur medical costs that are three to nine times as high as those for younger prisoners.” With issues of human suffering coming into play, actions must be taken in order to solve the injustices.  Clearly, debilitating ailments plague these individuals physically, emotionally, and psychologically through their years of segregation outside of normal society and health care.  Thus, questions are being raised such as; what is happening to these older individuals? What needs to be done? And whether or not they deserve altered treatment in order to sufficiently meet their needs as a human being and to keep them from further suffering? 
            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, it is truly the “little” things that matter to the inadequately stimulated mind and body of inmates.  With little else to cause happiness, inspire hope, or engage their brains, recreational activities and small jobs held within the prisons are detrimental to keeping these struggling humans sane.  A sense of self worth and pride, even if it is through seemingly unimportant tasks, is extremely important to the prisoner’s health and well being.  Without something to occupy their mind, inmates can quickly become mentally unstable in such a monotonous place.  Who are these recreational tasks and jobs aimed towards though?  Human Rights Watch stated that these elderly inmates “rarely have the benefit of programs to address the realities of aging or to help them understand and protect their health in later years. Many of the older prisoners we interviewed have little to do besides read, watch television, or talk to each other. With recent budget cuts on many prisons, recreational activities aimed at mature inmates are dwindling even more so.  Even after these cuts, the social and educational programs which are kept in place also “targets offenders who will be released in 3 years.”  Thus, many facilities that have these programs do not have them aimed towards individuals who are doomed to be in the system for a long time. This will result in an individual who has nothing left to do but to become consumed by their own thoughts. This can have detrimental effects on the prisoner's psychological well being.  Over time, the lack of interaction and activities can have extremely grim effects. "The Prison reform Trust's work in 2008... interviewed 78 male prisoners, 18 ex-prisoners and held two focus groups with women prisoners.  It concluded that 'poor regimes and lack of engagement with older people' resulted in isolation, and a lack of planning for resettlement meant that older people were not getting the services they needed when returning to the community." (Duffin 3)  Despite many prison’s short comings with providing alternate care for the elderly, some are making changes.  At one Women’s prison facility in San Diego, the prison warden allows for some small privileges for the elderly prisoner’s who have become known as the “Golden Girls.”  These alternate privileges include “two mattresses on their metal cot and first in line for meals.”  Below is a video of Glenda Virgil, a prisoner at this facility who is going on 23 years of incarceration for the second degree murder of her abusive husband.  She talks of the other special privileges in this prison and their importance in her rough life behind bars.

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 
With the previously mentioned budget cuts playing into prison’s placement of precious institute money, a variety of other manners are being taken in order to aid these suffering individuals.  A prison institute located in Florida is among those making thrifty adjustments in order to better serve their sick and elderly.  “A key element to the clinics is a computerized program that, in part, tracks appointments so physician and nursing time is not wasted. Beyond the financial aspects, chronic care clinics also provide a more stable environment to manage disease and illness and offer a better chance to educate patients about their condition and how to treat it, said Susan Laffan, RN, of Specialized Medical Consultants, LLC, of Toms River, NJ."  This example shows how small changes, such as being more efficient and educating inmates on how to treat their ailments can have a positive effect on treatment and care for the sick and suffering.  Also, “other innovations… include introducing hospice care for dying inmates and fellowships for medical students to learn geriatrics while caring for the older inmate population.”  I feel that this is one of the most positive changes which could be put in place in prison facilities.  This adjustment would allow not only the suffering and dying individuals to leave this Earth in a more comfortable environment minimizing their ultimate suffering but also provides a learning opportunity to these medical students.  Better education of the ailments these elderly prisoners face could not only teach the students more about geriatrics in general but also on the specific problems plaguing these inmates.  More research into these ailments could result in more knowledge on specific aspects of prison life which cause human beings to age so drastically in this environment, allowing them to be adjusted accordingly.  Martin L. Plevak, director of the Florida Department of Corrections, while at a Chicago conference “suggested increasing the use of volunteers to improve the health delivery environment at little cost.”  This yet again minimizes the cost of these services which would provide the elderly with better care at little cost to the institutes.
    The dilemma of aging prisoners is a serious concern in the United States that needs to be brought to light.  Without any steps being taken to fix this growing problem, we will face an even bigger problem down the road.  Adjustments to current laws and policies will need to be considered in order to aid in the solution.   The remodeling of prison systems or segregation of prisoners by age would remain an extremely adequate, yet costly solution.   Thus, until more money can be budgeting to prisons, minute changes need to be made in order to give these suffering human beings a chance at minimal suffering and optimal care.  Changes such as more efficient computerized systems, use of medical students, and use of volunteers prove positive alternatives to changing the care of the dying.  In all, many aspects of the current prison system will need to be be manipulated to fix this problem. Without a wealth of people to support this cause, it is more than likely any  calls to action will be ignored.

Image From

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

1 comment:

  1. The goal of this assignment is to help you and your partner think about revision strategies for our next class period. Please read the rough draft of your partner’s essay on their blog posted in “The Green Room”. After reading their rough draft, please copy and paste the following questions into the comments section at the bottom of your partner’s rough draft. Then try to answer the questions as thoroughly as possible:

    1.) Does your partner's essay identify a problem and offer a possible solution to the problem? What is the problem? What is the solution offered? If you are having trouble understanding the problem or solution, how might your partner clarify their position?

    Yes, the problem is that prisons are not built for old people and so the solution is that prisons should be segregated by age or that prisons overall should be remodeled.
    2.) Does the argument identify different angles of vision and explain why they are important to the audience? Which ones are the most interesting? Are their any angles that you feel might help their argument?

    The only angle of vision I'm noticing is from someone on the outside who is against the current prison system with regards to the elderly. Maybe you could use some interviews of prison guards or elderly prisoners or something along those lines within the essay (the video is too long to watch).
    3.) Does your partner identify their own angle of vision, or a persona that they advocate from? Is there anything your partner could do to help clarify their angle of vision?

    Doesn't explicitly say, but I think it can be seen.
    4.) Does the essay employ rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos, pathos, kairos) in a way that you feel is appropriate for the argument? Is there any advice you have to offer of ways to improve the rhetorical appeal of their argument?

    In the first paragraph where you're saying that the prison personnel aren't trained to accommodate older people it would make your argument seem a little more valid if there were a source stating that
    5.) Does the essay use multiple modes (video, images, audio, text), and do they help frame or support the argument? If so, how so? If not, how might your partner resolve this for you as a reader?

    Yes, the pictures help to show how troubling it looks for the elderly in prison and the video seems to have good insight on the subject.
    6.) Does your partner's essay use hyperlinks as citations, and do they work correctly?

    Citations are not hyperlinked (except for the pictures).