Because We Should

There are at least 26,100 men and women 65 and over currently in state and federal prisons, a 65% increase in the last five years and making up the fastest growing segment of prison population. The cost for older inmates is three to nine times higher than for those under 65. Most prison staff admits to not being trained to handle geriatric prisoners. We know from studies on recidivism that age is a factor that lowers crime rates. And then there’s the issue of their debt to society. “Anger, grief and the desire for retribution are understandable,” writes Jamie Fellner, a senior advisor at Human Rights Watch who focuses on criminal justice in the U.S., “and we all agree that people who commit serious crimes should be held accountable. But retribution can shade into vengeance. While being old should not be an automatic get-out-of-jail-free-card, infirmity and illness can change the calculus of what justice requires.” As the Attorney General recently admitted, when he announced a compassionate release policy, there seems to be a point where the society no longer benefits from keeping older and ill inmates in prison. Regardless of what reasons or who articulates them, older inmates who are sick ought to be released simply because that’s what a moral society demands.