Federal prisons are failing to care for some of their most vulnerable inmates — those over age 50 – according to a new report issued by the Department of Justice’s inspector general on Wednesday.
Ageing inmates are a growing sector of the prison population. According to the Justice Department, prisoners over 50 were the fastest-growing demographic between 2009 and 2013, jumping 25 per cent. According to the report, this is exacerbating financial burdens on prison budgets that are already stretched thin by overcrowding.
Here are some of the most disturbing revelations from the report:
- Prisoners with ailments have to wait months or even years for medical attention. One inmate who requested dentures in 2010 still has not received them.
- The average wait time for medical treatment outside of a prison facility across federal prisons was 114 days.
- Staff at federal prisons admitted that they had trouble spotting signs of ageing, and were untrained to deal with many medical issues.
- Elderly inmates were forced to sleep in the top bunks in cells, which many could not reach without injuring themselves.
- One ageing inmate reported that the prison unit that he lives in houses 160 inmates but has only one handicapped-accessible toilet, often forcing wheelchair-bound inmates to line up to use the stall.
- In one case, an anemic wheelchair-bound inmate was reportedly reprimanded for attempting to wheel himself inside to stay out of the cold weather while waiting for medical attention.
- The Bureau of Prisons hasn’t conducted an national review of its wheelchair-accessible prisons since 1996. Ageing prisoners who have trouble moving often have to navigate prisons that have uneven terrain and no elevators.
The report suggests that the easiest way to solve the problem is to release elderly prisoners who pose no threat to the public. Federal prisons are authorised to release prisoners who have served most of their sentences and are in worsening health because these prisoners often prove difficult to take care of and are unlikely to commit crimes.
According to a Justice Department study, only 3.5 per cent of federal prisoners released as part of the bureau’s “compassionate care” program for 50-and-over inmates committed a crime following release compared to the 41 per cent recidivism rate for the general population.
But there’s little sign that prisons are moving to release ageing prisoners from jails. Since the Bureau of Prisons relaxed its “compassionate care” standards for ageing inmates in 2013, only two have been released.
“In some cases, we’ve found that the department’s responses to these problems has fallen short,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said. “Today’s report is one example of that.”
The bureau concurred with every one of the IG’s recommendations for prison improvements.
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