“States would save on average more than $66,000 per year by releasing each elderly prisoner they needlessly keep behind bars, a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union finds.
Despite evidence showing that elderly people are far less likely to commit crime than the rest of the population, more than $16 billion of taxpayer money is spent annually locking up hundreds of thousands of relatively low-risk prisoners who are 50 years of age and older, according to the ACLU’s report. Age 50 is the criminological consensus of when a prisoner becomes elderly because people age physiologically faster in prison.
‘Extremely disproportionate sentencing policies, fueled by the ‘tough on crime’ and ‘war on drugs’ movements, have turned our prisons into nursing homes, and taxpayers are footing the bill,’ said Inimai Chettiar, ACLU advocacy and policy counsel. ‘Lawmakers need to implement reforms that lead to the release of those elderly prisoners who no longer pose a safety threat sufficient to justify their continued incarceration and reform our sentencing policies to prevent this epidemic at the outset.’
The ACLU’s report, “At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly,” finds that by 2030, there will be more than 400,000 elderly prisoners behind bars, a 4,400 percent increase from 1981 when only 8,853 state and federal prisoners were elderly. This despite universal agreement among criminologists that the propensity to commit crime plummets with age.
The ACLU’s report calls on states to grant elderly prisoners access to a parole hearing, during which parole boards can use risk assessment tools to accurately evaluate whether a prisoner continues to pose a public safety threat or whether he or she can be safely released. Last year the state legislature in Louisiana, which incarcerates more people per capita than any other state, passed such a law, easing taxpayer burden and allowing prisoners to return to their families to care for them while at the same time maintaining public safety.”