The Graying of Pennsylvania's Prisons


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About 85,000 people in Pennsylvania are incarcerated in state and county prisons. One cause of this overcrowding is the number of people who receive a sentence of life without parole. This sentence leads to what is often called the "graying" of Pennsylvania’s prisons; inmates who don’t receive parole are aging within the prison system. We spoke with Julia Hall, Ph.D, a professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice Department at Drexel University, current board member and former president of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, about this trend, its implications, and possible solutions.

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The Graying of Pennsylvania's Prisons

  1. 1. June 2012  Correctional Forum Correctional Forum June 2012 A Publication of the Pennsylvania Prison SocietyPromoting a humane, just and constructive correctional system and a rational approach to criminal justice since 1787Over 95,000 Children in Pennsylvania have a Parent in PrisonNew report includes the effects on children, recommended actionsby Bridget Fifer “This last December 31, I asked the cial proceedings, care-giving shortcom- barrassment, to the shame….” Moreinmates at the county jail how many ings, and lack of contact with incarcer- severe cases of neglect after a parent’sof them had children, and 90 per- ated parents, children across the nation arrest were mentioned in the report,cent of them raised their hands. My are experiencing such as “a child asnext question was, ‘Who was raising trauma, fear, isola- young as six yearstheir children?’” Philadelphia Mayor tion, and neglect. old who was sim-Michael Nutter’s question leads to the An example is ply left behind inbroader question of how the estimated Miss America, the apartment…95,000 children in Pennsylvania with Laura Kaeppeler, without makingincarcerated parents are affected by who experienced arrangements fortheir situation. firsthand what him and his baby it’s like to have an brother (the boy A new report entitled, “The incarcerated par- tried to take careEffects of Parental Incarceration on ent and describes of himself andChildren: Needs and Responsive the emotional his baby brotherServices” was conducted by the Joint trauma: “None of State Senator Stewart Greenleaf for weeks until stresses the importance of programsState Government Commission. The my friends could for children of incarcerated finds that through the combined relate to the isola- Photo by Erica Zaveloff. See Childrenforces of current arrest protocol, judi- tion, to the em- on page 10The Graying of Pennsylvania’s Prisons Where PublicAge 55 is considered “elderly” for prisoners Health and Criminalby Bridget Fifer Justice Issues Meet Most Pennsylvanians are aware of the rising costs of prisons, but why is so much PTSD and other traumas affectof the state budget going to the prison system? About 85,000 people in Pennsylva- prisoners and former offendersnia are incarcerated in state and county prisons. One cause of this overcrowdingis the number of people who receive a sentence of life without parole. With this sen- by Eden Leetence comes what is often referred to as the “graying” of Pennsylvania’s prisons; in- “If we don’t provide ex-offendersmates who don’t receive parole are aging within the prison system. We spoke with with the opportunity to have housing,Julia Hall, Ph.D, a professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice Department at how can we expect them to succeed?”Drexel University, current board member and former president of the Pennsylvania asked John Wetzel, Secretary of thePrison Society, about this trend, its implications, and possible solutions. Pennsylvania Department of Correc- CF: What are some reasons for the graying of Pennsylvania’s prisons? tions at the recent public health panel: JH: Prisons were never intended to be nursing homes or mental institutions, The Nexus Between Public Healthbut if our society insists on sentences of life without parole and other long and Criminal Justice. The 200 attend-sentences, we are buying into geriatric and mental health care for incarcerated ees also heard from Estelle Richman,individuals. We leave them no option but to age and die in prison. Acting Deputy Director for the U.S. See Elderly on page 11 See Public Health on page • 1
  2. 2. June 2012  Correctional ForumElderly, continued from page 1 hot flashes, etc. The women needed the companionship of CF: What are some health problems of individuals who older people who understood. (Their facility was part ofare aging in our prison system? the general prison population, and not a separate unit for elderly inmates.) JH: We tend to need the most medical care in the lastyears of our lives and inmates are no different. Inmates CF: Do you think it is necessary to create a separate facil-often appear physically and psychologically ten years older ity to accommodate the growing elderly prison population?than their age-mates in free society. For this reason, the defi- JH: No, I prefer a greater use of compassionate or medi-nition of “elderly” has been set at 55 for incarcerated people. cal release first. In general, an individual would be betterA lack of medical and dental care, unstable lifestyles, and off in the community, with his or her family. At that agedrug and alcohol abuse may affect health and cause an they are a very low crime risk; age and infirmity furtherinmate to age faster and require more medical care. All the reduce risk. In a needs assessment I conducted, I found thatdementias (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc.) also afflict incar- most elderly people do not want to be in a separate area orcerated elderly, requiring special care and protection. facility for fear of being forgotten and ignored. They want CF: Why is the cost of incarceration so much higher for to be mainstreamed, but with access to necessary provi-elderly prisoners? sions based on age. For example, schedule time in the gym for older men, or specific times in the yard. This worked JH: Elderly people have higher costs of medical care. out well at SCI Graterford. Also, make sure they are notThis is true outside prison, and it is true inside prison. pushed behind in the chow line. COs can let older men re-They also need more medications and assistive devices like ceive food first. This is not discrimination because youngercanes, braces, wheelchairs, glasses, etc. It has been esti- prisoners will be older one day and will get their turn.mated that medical care for elderly inmates is three times Elderly prisoners do have needs for protection, support,greater than the cost for younger inmates. The cost goes up, and special services such as medical care and supportive,but the crime risk goes down. After age 55, the elderly do accessible environments.not require as much prison security. We are paying a lot forvery little crime prevention. CF: What are some possible solutions to the overrepre- sentation of the elderly population in prisons? CF: Is abuse or neglect a concern with the elderly popu-lation in prisons? JH: A change of legislation would be ideal. Prisoners need to be reassessed at intervals to determine if they are JH: Elderly offenders as a general group are less likely to still a risk. This, of course, would have to be done on ancomplain if abused or neglected. They keep a low profile, individual basis and incarcerated individuals would notand it’s easy to ignore the quiet person: They’re not the simply be released on the basis of age. There could alwayssqueaky wheels that get the oil, and their generation is be that one wild card who is still a risk. (Life with paroleless likely to speak out against authority. They can also be would have to be approved by the legislature to releaseabused or intimidated by younger, stronger inmates. these prisoners on parole.) CF: What about the needs of elderly women in the CF: What is something that the general populationprison system? should know about the graying of Pennsylvania prisons? JH: During my mid-1980s needs assessment at SCI JH: The cost of medical care for an elderly inmate goesMuncy, I visited a support group that older woman had up as they age, but the likeliness of their committing a crimeformed to allow women to discuss their grandchildren decreases dramatically. Many tax dollars could be saved bywithout feeling corny or stupid, or to discuss problems like using alternatives to prison for low-risk older inmates.225 Years, continued from page 2 Dr. Menninger concluded his book with a call to all citi-concerns for the physical, mental and behavioral conditions zens to “renounce the philosophy of punishment” in favorthat drive people to commit crimes remain atop the list of of a “comprehensive, constructive social attitude — thera-problems with which we grapple on a daily basis. peutic in some instances, restraining in some instances, but A 2008 research report by the Justice Policy Center suggests preventive in its total social impact.” He goes on to say thatthat nearly all men and women released from prison have it is a matter of personal morals and values. And, he added:health issues that impact the process of reintegration. “Policy- “Unless this message is heard, unless we, the people…makers and practitioners would be well served to adopt a new can give up our delicious satisfactions in opportunities forparadigm that recognizes health as a universal rather than a vengeful retaliation on scapegoats, we cannot expect to pre-special needs concern among returning prisoners,” it concludes. serve our peace, our public safety, or our mental health.” Ultimately, we strive to ameliorate the damage done by The magnitude of our challenge must be viewed in theimmersing people in the vileness of the prison experience. context of man’s long standing addiction to vengeance. InThis is little different than the horrors of war, domestic vio- the hourglass of history, 225 years is hardly the blink of anlence and natural disasters which often lead to unbearable eye. We can celebrate our accomplishments, but we havetraumatic stress that takes a toll for years. much more work to • 11