What elderly inmates — like Bill Cosby — have to look forward to in prison


Prisons are beginning to look a lot like nursing homes, and more of them are trying to accommodate seniors like Bill Cosby.

The fallen actor and comedian, 81, was sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison for sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, the courts determined last month. Cosby, who will be in his mid-to-late 80s (if not early 90s) by the time he’s released, is now one of the more than 164,400 adults 55 and older in prison (a 280% jump from 1999, when there were only about 43,300 in the same age bracket, and 2016).

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Prisons are responding to the aging population in various ways. Senior inmates suffer many of the same problems other elderly people face, including dementia, vision and hearing loss, impaired mobility and heart or kidney failure, though ailments may be exacerbated by the fact that they have experienced substance abuse and inadequate preventive care.

Medical and correctional staff must also be trained to work specifically with elderly and chronically ill inmates, according to a report from the National Institute of Corrections, and might try to mitigate the spreading of some illnesses or diseases as well (such as sexually-transmitted diseases). “Prisons are set up to contain, to control, to rehabilitate — they’re not set up to be nursing homes,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “And yet that is exactly what prisons are having to become.”

About 75 prisons have built hospice and medical facilities to care for the imprisoned, especially because nearby nursing homes don’t want to accept these jailbirds, even if they can get parole, according to the Marshall Project.

In some specific cases, prisons with nursing home facilities hire their own inmates to care for elderly patients, such as those with dementia. At the California Men’s Colony, selected prisoners (including those convicted of murder) are paid $50 a month to act as aides for others suffering from Alzheimer’s, the Marshall Project found. They are trained by the Alzheimer’s Association, given a manual and a video about the disease and work with support groups to figure out how best to help people suffering from the illness. These facilities tend to cluster prisoners with similar medical issues together, Fathi said. “I’ve visited one in Washington state and it looked like a nursing home with razor wire,” he said.

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This care comes at a cost to taxpayers. Incarceration of inmates 55 and older costs two to three times more than all others on average, mostly because of health care costs, according to the National Institute of Corrections. State departments of correction spent more than $8 billion, or a fifth of overall prison expenditures, on prison health care services, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit public policy organization. “Treating chronic conditions has emerged as a growing challenge and expense in state prisons, exacerbated by an aging prison population,” the researchers found.

At least 17 states offer medical parole or geriatric parole, which allow prisons to release inmates because of poor health or advanced age (respectively), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But they are rarely used, Amanda Essex, senior policy specialist in the criminal justice program at NCSL, wrote. Legislators across the country met last month to tour the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility and learn about the programs and practices in place for elderly inmates. Many agreed, Essex said, that the most serious offenders should be kept and cared for in prison, while others convicted on nonviolent offenders may be better off released.

“What is the point of a continued incarceration long after he poses a threat to public safety?” Fathi asked.

Source : MTV