Center for American Progress

Mass Incarceration of the Elderly Is Unnecessary and Expensive
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Mass Incarceration of the Elderly Is Unnecessary and Expensive

Our extreme sentencing policies and a growing number of life sentences have effectively turned many of our correctional facilities into veritable nursing homes—and taxpayers are footing the steadily increasing bill.

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The graying of our prison population is a national epidemic afflicting states around the country—from California to Missouri to Florida—and further burdening already strained state budgets. Our extreme sentencing policies and a growing number of life sentences have effectively turned many of our correctional facilities into veritable nursing homes—and taxpayers are footing the steadily increasing bill.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report, entitled “At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly,” which provides a comprehensive in-depth examination of the United States’s population of elderly or aging prisoners. The report reveals that far too many of our tax dollars are going toward keeping elderly prisoners behind bars, even after there is no justifiable public safety reason to do so. The report finds that states on average will save more than $66,000 per elderly prisoner released per year, even if those prisoners rely on public assistance for support upon release—this analysis includes any state payments for Medicaid, supplemental security food stamps, energy assistance, and other public assistance benefits. To put that dollar amount into context: the average annual income for the typical American household is about $40,000.

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