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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3 Responses to ELDERLY RELEASE BILL: a work in progress

  1. Sharon Kobishop says:

    why not include the 50 to 55 by your statement in (a.) there are many in that age bracket that have spent 20 to more years and are eligible for release and the DOC puts up road blocks. I agree these men and woman cost the state more money each year they are denied their eligibility for release

    • Steve Gordon says:

      How difficult of a concept is this for legislators to grasp? It is general public paranoia that is the problem, or the biggest problem. There are however older prisoners who should not be released and so this can’t be a general blanket for all older prisoners. This brings the Parole and Corrections people back into the pictures. After all, public safety is the ultimate goal.

  2. Steve Gordon says:

    I was 53-years-old when I was sent to state prison in PA on a 5-10 year sentence. I did not lead a life of crime and was a responsible citizen who made a big mistake. Briefly the prosecuting attorney objected to my parole (he didn’t get the maximum sentence he wanted) and I did all 10 years. I saw so many older prisoners in bad shape, more than a couple into their 70’s and 80’s, who were no threat to society and many who had family to go home to that could care for them. However the PA DOC – or rather the PA Board of Parole – would not grant parole for various dubious reasons. The money it cost on medications and special care for these prisoners had to be massive. It doesn’t make sense. I hope Wisconsin succeeds. As far as I know Pennsylvania is still in the dark ages.

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