ELDERLY RELEASE BILL: a work in progress



BACKGROUND: We have just passed a landmark in Wisconsin. For the first time in our history, we are spending more on Corrections (prisons and jails) than we are on our colleges and universities. Nationwide ,we have become overdependent on prisons to solve our problems and this blindness is coming back to haunt us. Wisconsin spending on corrections increased by 9.5.% in the same period it decreased by 7.5 % in all other programs( see study). Our bill addresses one crucial aspect of this rise: The elderly in prison.

Many studies show a nationwide rise of the elderly- here are two of the latest: Old Behind Bars; January 2012 by Human Rights Watch (HRW);  and in July, ACLU put out the study “At America’s risk”. In Wisconsin , the cost of caring for the elderly is consuming the Department of Corrections Health Care budget , putting on old many important innovations in other programs. For example, model units for the treating the mentally ill are in place with no funding to expand that program. We have so concentrated our funding on correcrtions that Schools have suffered.

Here is some background information we consider as we craft our bill :
a)50 to 55 is considered old by the Corrections department as people in prison age 8 to 10 years faster than the non- incarcerated.
b) Older prisoners commit fewer crimes. The recidivism rate for prisoners 50 years and older is 2% ( Department of Justice stats).
c) The cost of housing an elderly prisoner is three times the cost of a younger prisoner.
d) Prisoners are not eligible for social security or medicare while in prison so all costs falls to the Wisconsin Taxpayer
e) Prisoners are not set up for carig for the elderly whose needs are vastly different that the needs of younger inmates. Prisons are being forced to develop hospice units and other programs for people who pose no threat to society.

There are two parts to our bill:
WHO IS ELIGIBLE : for prisoners 55 and over who have served at least 15 years
1) first there is screening by law students to select prisoners with get best prospects for release, then they find placement for the people they select. We will be working with the UW Law school to expand their present screening process and also with the POPS program (project for older prisoners)in George Washington University under Jonathon Turley to craft our bill. The POPS program also finds support and housing for the eligible prisoners and that would be vital to our bill also. Those prisoners who pass the screening and are placed would be able to go in front of their sentencing judge.
2)The prospective prisoners go before the sentencing judge or substitute if he is no longer serving. This would be an open hearing where those for and against have voice. Wisconsin is unique in that all prisoners eligible for release in our bill were incarcerated before Truth in Sentencing came into existence in 2000 are largely stuck. They live in limbo, have been eligible for parole for many years, some as long as 25 years . Many have spent their years in prison well, have become truly wise and kind, and are needed back in their communities. UP till now, any screening done in WI has no effect as the the wardens and parole board is afraid to release prisoners who were once violent no matter how rehabilitated they are or how long ago they committed their crime. Our bill bypasses the present stuck system.

Help Needed: The details of this bill have not been worked out yet and we will be working with republican and democratic legislators , with UW law school , judges and the POP program in Washington DC. All input is welcome. We are especially looking for WI residents who could help us get in touch with their legislators.

FILL OUR OUR SURVEY- (coming)let the powers that be know you believe that people change and we need to provide a second chance.

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Old Behind Bars BY Human Rights Watch


Old Behind Bars
The Aging Prison Population in the United States
Copyright c 2012 Human Rights Watch

All rights reserved.Printed in the United States of America
ISBN: 1-56432-859-7;Cover design by Rafael Jimenez


Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the
world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political
freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to
justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.
We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and
respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international
community to support the cause of human rights for all.
Human Rights Watch is an international organization with staff in more than 40 countries.
For more information, please visit our website: http://www.hrw.org

Life in prison can challenge anyone, but it can be particularly hard
for people whose bodies and minds are being whittled away by age.
Prisons in the United States contain an ever growing number of
aging men and women who cannot readily climb stairs, haul
themselves to the top bunk, or walk long distances to meals or the
pill line; whose old bones suffer from thin mattresses and winter’s
cold; who need wheelchairs, walkers, canes, portable oxygen, and
hearing aids; who cannot get dressed, go to the bathroom, or bathe
without help; and who are incontinent, forgetful, suffering chronic
illnesses, extremely ill, and dying.
Human Rights Watch presents in this report new statistics that testify unequivocally to
the aging of the US prison population. Among our findings:

1)Between 2007 and 2010, as noted above,
the number of sentenced state and federal
prisoners age 65 or older increased by 63
percent, while the overall population of
sentenced prisoners grew only 0.7 percent in
the same period. There are now 26,200
prisoners age 65 or older.
2) Between 1995 and 2010, the number of state
and federal prisoners age 55 or older nearly
quadrupled (increasing 282 percent), while
the number of all prisoners grew by less than
half (increasing 42 percent). There are now
124,400 prisoners age 55 or older.
3)As of 2010, 8 percent of sentenced state
and federal prisoners are age 55 or older,
more than doubling from 3 percent in 1995.
• One in ten state prisoners is serving a
life sentence.
4) Eleven percent of federal prisoners age 51
or older are serving sentences ranging from 30 years to life

Timothy Curtin
The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in
the world with more than 2.1 million inmates,6 about 10% of whom
are over fifty-five years-of-age.7 Fifty-five is a critical age; at first
glance it seems too young to be characterized as “elderly,” but prisoners
are an unusual group.8 Unsurprisingly, prison inmates often have
a history of drug and alcohol abuse.9 If an inmate comes from an impoverished
background, he may have had only limited access to
health care prior to incarceration.10 Along with the rigors of prison
life, these factors give many inmates a physiological age ten to fifteen
years older than their contemporaries.11 Most of the literature that
considers the health-damaging effects of prison life in combination
with the lifestyle and poor health care of many inmates prior to incarceration
suggests that age fifty-five or even fifty be considered elderly
for prisoners.12

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National Institute of Corrections Addressing needs of older prisoners

see full PDF file here:https://elderlyrelease.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/addressing-the-needs-of-old-prisoners.pdf

U.S. Department of Justice

National Institute of Corrections

320 First Street, NW

Washington, DC 20534


As the median age of inmates in our jails and prisons

steadily increases and the incidence of chronic illness

and disabilities grows ever larger, the issue of how

best to manage services and care for older inmates

and those with chronic and terminal illnesses

becomes more prominent.

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) recognizes

that correctional practitioners and correctional

health care providers are seeking comprehensive

and useful knowledge about current, innovative,

effective, and economical practices that address the

special needs of these populations.

NIC commissioned this publication to guide prison

administrators in managing aging and infirm inmates.

This report reviews the most recent relevant literature,

provides examples of promising approaches

from six states, and clarifies how the nation’s correctional

agencies are meeting the operational, programmatic,

and health care challenges associated

with meeting these inmates’ needs.

This report is exploratory in nature. It is not intended

to provide absolute answers or a single comprehensive

model that all corrections agencies might

follow. Rather, it respects the different laws and traditions

that govern state and territorial corrections

and attempts to provide examples and guidance

from corrections systems that have addressed these

issues successfully. It is up to individual correctional

administrators and medical practitioners to consider

these examples and to determine what best works

for them.

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Search for a cost-effective and socially acceptable solution to the aging prison population



Click here for full PDF essay


Timothy Curtin


The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in

the world with more than 2.1 million inmates,6 about 10% of whom

are over fifty-five years-of-age.7 Fifty-five is a critical age; at first

glance it seems too young to be characterized as “elderly,” but prisoners

are an unusual group.8 Unsurprisingly, prison inmates often have

a history of drug and alcohol abuse.9 If an inmate comes from an impoverished

background, he may have had only limited access to

health care prior to incarceration.10 Along with the rigors of prison

life, these factors give many inmates a physiological age ten to fifteen

years older than their contemporaries.11 Most of the literature that

considers the health-damaging effects of prison life in combination

with the lifestyle and poor health care of many inmates prior to incarceration

suggests that age fifty-five or even fifty be considered elderly

for prisoners.

Timothy Curtin is Articles Editor 2007–2008, Member 2006–2007, The Elder Law Journal;
J.D. 2008, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; B.A. 1996, Loyola University
of Chicago, Political Science and Economics

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Dementia Behind Bars/A Broader Right to Counsel

Dementia Behind Bars/A Broader Right to Counsel
March 25, 2012 from the NYTimes
Dementia Behind Bars
The get-tough-on-crime and mandatory sentencing policies that swept America
beginning in the 1970s did more than drive up the inmate population and prison costs. They also ensured that inmates who once might have been seen as rehabilitated and given parole would grow old and even die behind bars. As a result, prisons are struggling to furnish costly, specialized care to ever more inmates who suffer from age-related infirmities, especially dementia.
According to a report from Human Rights Watch, in 2010 roughly 125,000 of the
nation’s 1.5 million inmates were 55 years of age and over. This represented a 282 percent increase between 1995 and 2010, compared with a 42 percent increase in the overall inmate population. If the elderly inmate population keeps growing at the current rate, as is likely, the prison system could soon find itself overwhelmed with chronic medical needs.
There is no official count of how many inmates suffer from dementia. But some
gerontologists say the current caseload represents the trickle before the deluge. They say the risk of the disease is higher behind bars because inmates are sicker to start with – with higher rates of depression, diabetes, hypertension, H.I.V./AIDS and head trauma. Given these risk factors, the dementia rate in prison could well grow at two or three times that of the world outside. This is a daunting prospect for prison officials whose difficulties in keeping pace with the present dementia caseload were underscored in a recent report by The Times’s Pam Belluck. The article portrayed officials in crowded, understaffed correctional facilities scrambling to care for ailing inmates who can no longer feed, dress or clean themselves and who create conflict and disorder because they can no longer follow simple commands.
The Human Rights Watch study said the cost of providing medical care to elderly inmates is between three and nine times the cost for younger ones. Another study found that the annual average health care cost per prisoner is about $5,500; about $11,000 for inmates aged 55 to 59 and $40,000 for inmates 80 or older. A specialized unit for cognitively impaired inmates in the New York State system costs more than $90,000 per bed per year, more than twice the figure for general inmates.
Many inmates, obviously, can never be released, and they will continue to require special care. But the states must pursue other avenues as well. They can foster partnerships between prisons and nursing homes to improve the quality of care; consider compassionate release programs for frail inmates who no longer present a threat to public safety; and, no less important, revisit the mandatory sentencing policies that did away with judicial discretion and filled the prisons to bursting in the first place.

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The budget starts people thinking about doing what is right

Our prisons are filled with people who did their crimes in their youth and are now rehabilitated and needed out here. The recent budget crisis may help this group finally get the freedom for which they have been longing.  This from the NYT:

”  Fresh efforts are under way in the states to reduce prison populations, partly driven by severe state budget shortfalls, and as a result, more aged and infirm inmates are being considered for release. It’s no wonder that states are looking at releasing older inmates. Incarceration costs for a prisoner over age 55 run about three times as much as the average prisoner, largely because of higher medical spending. Care for patients incarcerated in state prisons must be paid for entirely by states, but once the offenders are released, they qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. In Wisconsin, for instance, healthcare costs for adult prisoners more than tripled, from $28.5 million in 1998 to $87.6 million in 2005. In the same time period, the prison population rose by 25%. Meanwhile, the overall prison population is growing old. Out of the more than 1.4 million males confined to state or federal prisons in 2008, nearly 150,000 were age 50 or older. Some 15,800 were 65 or older, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Statistics . For women, out of 105,300 in total, 8,700 were over age 50, with only 600 age 65 or older. Caregivers and experts on prison healthcare define incarcerated over age 50 as elderly, because their overall health usually is more on par with the average 60- or 65-year-old living in free society. This is partly because of the stresses of prison life, and also because of lifelong poverty, poor nutrition and often drug abuse. The aging prison population is partly the result of tougher sentencing guidelines that started in the 1970s, including three-strikes laws. One in 11 prisoners nationwide is serving a life sentence–in some states as many as one in six prisoners have been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. “All this created a boom in aging prisoners,” says David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.”

In this blog we will have studies down on the elderly population and our present efforts in Wisconsin to craft a bill for the upcoming 2013 legislative session that would give the elderly a clear path to release.

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Is It Time?
Isn’t it conspicuously strange how in time of national, economic and state budgetary crisis and with politicians at each others throats, none with any real solutions; that we hear nothing of the usual talk on demogoging of crime and punishment. Yet at a time when so many family’s are hurting, there is no question the crime rate is climbing.
Many states have already taken steps to relieve some of their fiscal burden by early release of some non-violent offenders. Should the economy go totally down the drain, the government not having the revenue to afford it as jails are not self-sustaining and are very costly to operate, there will be further early releases from already overcrowded facilities.
One class of prisoners that thus far seem to receive no consideration is the elderly prisoner. They comprise a class of prisoners in every state’s prison system who are 50 years or older, many of whom have been imprisoned for decades. Many have chronic medical conditions requiring ongoing care making them the most costly to incarcerate. As they age their medical problems multiply, further deepening costs to imprison them.
Every statistic has shown that elderly prisoners who have been released are the least likely to reoffend. In prison many are already reformed people, yet they are the most invisible and neglected group when policymakers seek fiscal solutions.
A small number of prison activists across several states are working to reform release policy concerning elderly prisoners in their respective states. In Illinois House Bill 4154, the Elderly Sentence Advisement Act has received some attention before the Illinois House of Representative Prison Reform Committee. HB4154 as presently written would allow prisoners who have served 25 consecutive years and reached age 50, and who demonstrate genuine, consistent behavior change over a period of years, to apply to the original sentencing courts for a sentence adjustment. The original court would have the sole power to adjust sentences.
A non-mandatory restorative justice program similar to Missouri’s quite successful impact of Crime upon Victims Classes [ICVC] is a 40 hour program that, in part, involves classes led by crime victims and their families, for example parents of murdered children, who speak at the ICVC dialogues, sharing their stories, helping prisoners to change by understanding how others have suffered from crimes to them and their family members.
As of January 1, 2009 there were 658 prisoners in the Illinois Department of Corrections that were older than 50 and have served 25 years. Many of whom, under the old law, have long been eligible for parole. In every prison system across America there are many hundreds of these same prisoners. Some have life sentences while others have excessively large sentences. Activists here in the State of Wisconsin anticipate introducing their draft version of a elderly sentence modification bill.
America has always been a predominately christian country. Yet today, in terms of sentencing and the amount of time as well as the number of prisoners executed, this country is second to none. It has been at least 30 years since America has abandoned rehabilitation and the possibility that people can change. The lofty precepts of mercy love and forgiveness resonating from the pulpits throughout this nation fall deaf-tone to the criminal justice system.
When the economy is thriving crime and prison expansion becomes a handy scapegoat to satiate political demogogs who fearmonger the public with what is in fact a symptom(crime) of societal malady in order to win power and direct the national fate. The present economic crisis, its very roots sprouting from these very same political leaders who have for decades out-sourced American jobs and what was left of the American pie to foreign countries, have similarly been given away to private corrections and corporate interest control of public policy on crime and punishment. In “Race, Gender and Prison History” Professor Angela Y Davis writes : ..”In arrangements reminiscent of the convicts lease system, federal, state and county government pay private company’s a fee for each inmate, which means that private companies have a stake in retaining prisoners as long as possible and keeping their facilities filled.”
In state-run-jails and prisons this privatization usually takes form in contracts given to private vendors to supply and/or operate the prison’s canteen, or to furnish and sale according to prison policy and specifications food and medication, electronics, clothing, stationary, phone service, and every other community service or device needed to maintain and live in jail. The prices that prisoners pay for these items are always inflated compared to what they cost on the outside. For example, prisoners in the supermax in which I am confined, for a 6oz tube of colgate toothpaste, are made to pay $5.15. A 44 cent embossed stamped envelope costs 48 cents.
The corporate prison industrial complex and beholden politicians drive public policy and prisons to serve their limited interests, their bottom-line, instead of a humane and sensible approach in criminal justice, the true public interest.
Democratic systems should operate on the principle of minimal restraint, only that force which is necessary to maintain public safety. Many elderly prisoners, having done 25 or more years, are prisoners who have grown matured and changed while in prison. Draconian practices such as Capital punishment and prison sentences in excess of 25 consecutive years, like sentencing juveniles to life without parole, and deny elderly prisoners a pathway to redemption, all are practices that are not the norm among democratic societies.
Any activist or concerned person wishing to help to reform and refocus criminal justice policy away from corporate interest and back to a sensible approach of redemption and rehabilitation, or if you have an opinion to add to this mix, let me hear from you.
May 4th, 2011 Peace & Love, LaRon McKinley Bey, an elderly Wi Prisoner

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