According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice, about 11% of the state and federal prison population in 2016 was over age 55. Of those prisoners, numbering roughly 160,000, around 38,000 were 65 or older. The share of prisoners over age 50 is expected to swell from about 17% in 2013 to 33% by 2030.
States that have an even higher percentage of elderly prisoners include Massachusetts, where 17% of state prisoners are over 55. New York’s overall prison population fell by 17% between 2007 and 2016, but at the same time the number of prisoners age 50 or older rose by 46%, to include over 10,000 of the state’s more than 50,000 prisoners.
Older prisoners face unique safety hazards, plus other age-related problems – such as incontinence and dementia – are exacerbated in penal settings. They also require more healthcare services, which they have a constitutional right to receive under the Eighth Amendment. In Massachusetts, for example, the annual cost of caring for a single hospitalized prisoner is $283,000 – four times the cost of incarceration in a maximum-security facility.