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By: Kayla Ayton, Nolan Hale, and Justin Schechter

Incarcerated Aging




older inmate rights

Mental health


Prison Conditions and design

Defintion and context


- In the United States, 19% of our prison population is over 50 years old (Milićević and Ilijić, 2022)


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Our Demographic

$881 million

Other Allocations

Medical Needs

Staff training


  • According to the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S Department of Justice In 2013 the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) spent 19% of its budget on people over the age of 50 in prison. That is equivalent to $881 million.
  • The OIG found that aging inmates have more medical needs, which drives up the cost of housing them compared to younger inmates.
  • According to the OIG, BOP spends roughly 18% more on average to house aging inmates than younger inmates.
  • “BOP institutions lack appropriate staffing levels [and training] to address the needs of the of an aging inmate population and provide limited training for this purpose” (2013, Office of Inspector General).


  • prison architecture is designed to accommodate young individuals (Howse, 2002)
  • around 30% of individuals aged 65 or older experience falls annually, a rate that rises with increasing age (Landfield, 2004, as cited in Williams et al., 2014)

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Prison Conditions and Design

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  • prison healthcare falls short of addressing the needs of patients, particularly with older prisoners who are at higher risk of health concerns than other age groups
  • incarcerated older adults are significantly more likely than free older adults to suffer from the following:
  • - four or more health conditions
  • - physical ailments
  • -functional impairments
  • -psychological disorders



Older Inmate Rights

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) purport that prisoners have a right to health care equivalent to the standard available in the community (2014). In 2017, the United Nations added palliative care and stipulated that a dignified death is a human right for all,” (United Nations, 1948, p.1, as cited in Johns et al., 2022).
  • “Compassionate release (CR) is a provision founded on humanitarian reasoning, which allows terminally ill incarcerated persons facing imminent death to be released before sentence completion. Early release enables access to palliative care services, including psychosocial care provision, a notion now considered a basic human right,” (Handtke et al., 2017, Puru, 2018, Stajduhar et al., 2019, as cited in Johns et al., 2022).
  • “ [CR} justified on the basis that the incarcerated person is too impaired to cognitively comprehend their punishment or pose a risk, highlighting that the goals of prison, namely, rehabilitation and punishment, are no longer plausible,” (Handtke et al., 201 as cited in Johns et al., 2022).



  • All of these increases seem to be unnecessary as older adults tend to have an exponentially lower recidivism rate compared to their younger counterparts (Widra, 2023).
  • According to Widra, recidivism rates of those released from prison at age 65 or older had a recidivism rate of less than 7% five years after released compared to those age 39 and younger who are just above 30% five years after release.


Howse, K. (2002). Growing old in prison: A scoping study on older prisoners. Centre for policy on ageing and prison reform trust.Initiative, P. P. (2023). The aging prison population: Causes, costs, and consequences. Prison Policy Initiative. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2023/08/02/aging/Johns, L., Weightman, S., Blackburn, P., & McAuliffe, D. (2022). A systematic literature review exploring the psychosocial aspects of palliative care provision for incarcerated persons: a human rights perspective. International Journal of Prisoner Health, 18(4), 443-457. Kouyomdijan, F., Andreev, E., Borschmann, R., Kinner, S., & McConnon, A. (2017). Do people who experience incarceration age more quickly? Exploratory analyses using retrospective cohort data on mortality from Ontario, Canada. PLoS One, 12(4). https://doi.org10.1371/journal.pone.0175837 Landfield, S. (2004). Current: Geriatric diagnosis & treatment. McGraw-Hill.


Milićević, M., & Ilijić, L. (2022). Ageing of the prison population-characteristics, Issues and Perspectives. Office of the Inspector General (2015). The Impact of an Aging Inmate Population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved from https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2015/e1505.pdf Prost, S., Archuleta, A., & Golder, S. (2019). Older adults incarcerated in state prison: health and quality of life disparities between age cohorts. Ageing & Mental Health, 25(2), 260–268. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2019.1693976 Solares, C., Dobrosavljevic, M., Larsson, H., Cortese, S., & Andershed, H. (2020). The mental and physical health of older offenders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 118, 440-450. Williams, B., Ahalt, C., & Greifinger, R. (2014). The older prisoner and complex chronic medical care. World Health Organization.


More Statistics

  • This is already an astonishingly high number, and when considering the poor lighting, stairs, and uneven flooring commonly found in prisons, this risk is heightened even further (Williams et al., 2014).
  • Covinsky et al. (1997) states that 20% of men aged over 50 were unable to perform some IADLs independently, and 11% for ADLs.

The Consequences

  • the comorbidity and severe neglect of these issues has led to increased mortality rates
  • Men ages 20 to 44 and women 20 to 59 passed away 15 years younger than would be expected for their free counterparts (Kouyomdijan et al., 2017).

The statistics

- Furthermore, the older prisoner population has increased by "181% between 2000 and 2010, in contrast to the overall prison population which increased by only 17% (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011).