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Poll: Should Older Prisoners Get Reduced Sentences?

The number of inmates age 55 and older is booming

By Josh Walker

This week a TV station in Arizona wrote about the dramatic increase in the number of American prisoners age 55 and older.

Pew Charitable Trusts found that since 1999, elderly prisoners (55 and older) in state and federal facilities grew 250 percent. Their younger counterparts (under 55) grew by only 10 percent.

The author of the Pew's new paper cites two possible reasons for the increase: (1) the relatively recent phenomenon of longer prison sentences and "mandatory minimums" for certain crimes and (2) people are, on average, now entering prison at an older age than previously.

What does all this mean for the American prison system?

That means tens of thousands of prisoners who double as patients fighting dementia, diabetes, hypertension, vision loss and other chronic conditions. When it comes to dollars and cents, [the study author] calculates caring for older prisoners can cost up to three times more than maintaining younger inmates’ health.

You may have heard, including in this report from NPR, about the recent release of more than 6,000 American prisoners convicted on drug charges because of a change in the way the U.S. government sentences drug criminals. So, with that in mind. . . .


Our Question To You

If the prison sentences of convicted, non-violent drug criminals are being reduced or commuted in the United States, should we also reduce or commute the prison sentences of older American prisoners? Does a prisoner's advanced age at some point urge mercy? Is it unfair to burden taxpayers with the cost of picking up all of these older prisoners' dramatically increased health care costs? Or, if you commit the crime, do you need to do the time, regardless of age? Tell us what you think below.

Josh Walker is the former social media manager at Next Avenue. Read More
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