left to die

new report finds ten of thousands of people over fifty who are sentenced to life without parole face increasingly grim conditions

Multiple back surgeries, high blood pressure, cholesterol and pre-diabetes make it difficult for Carolyn Moore to move around the prison she is incarcerated at. Moore, featured in a June report on the 40,000 people who are serving life without parole in America’s prisons, has spent the last 37 years behind bars.

Her case was highlighted among others in a report that found almost half of the people serving life without parole are elderly and face poor healthcare, food and living conditions in facilities that are “largely unprepared” to manage their medical, physical, mental and social needs, according to The Sentencing Project’s “Nothing but Time.” Despite an increase in compassionate releases due to covid over the last few years, there has been little change within facilities or policy to address the substantial cost and demands of care of a growing elderly population. 

“In the report, we show 40% of the people serving life are 50 and older which is problematic for humanitarian reasons,” Ashley Nellis, author of the report, said. The exploding cost of care for incarcerated elderly was not something that was accounted for, she added.

The report found hazardous prison conditions affect the health of incarcerated elderly people. “The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 73% of imprisoned people aged 50 or older reported having a chronic medical condition and two thirds of people in prison, regardless of age, were taking prescription medication,” according to the report.

The report found that nearly half of prisons don’t have a set plan to care for elder, and that facilities are unsanitary and cannot handle medical, social, mental, and physical needs. Due to these disadvantages, aging occurs sooner in prison than the outside world. By 2030, it is predicted that one third of people will be at least 50 years old. 

Racial inequity persists in the elderly prison population as well: 48% of those serving life without parole are Black and close to 60% are not white. 

The vast majority of the elderly population facing life without parole is men, only 4% is women. Women both in and out of prison live longer than men, and they are more prone to report mental, cognitive, and physical health decline. 

As the aging prison population grows, states face growing costs. Data showed that in 2015 corrections collectively spent $8.1 billion on medical costs for inmates. “The cost is an issue to be concerned about. You can expect billions of dollars to help house elderly people and provide their healthcare and hospice care,” Nellis said.

In ten years, even if no other person gets sentenced to life without parole, almost an additional 10,000 more people serving these sentences will be over 50 and considered elderly. 

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