Aging of the Institutional Corrections Population
Dignity and consideration for human rights should govern the care of all older people, including those who are in prison. For thousands of older people, the prison building is the equivalent of a nursing home. According to Chen (2017), by 2030, about one in three persons in federal or state jails will be 55 or older, which is more than three times the number in the 1990s. Thus, prisoners have the right to receive timely and appropriate care for severe medical needs. Bedard et al. (2016) claim that under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there is protection from cruel and unusual punishment for every person. However, many healthcare and services providers in the criminal justice system are insufficiently trained to provide quality and effective care to older people.
Physical decline often makes it difficult for older prisoners to orientate in their environment, and their deterioration in vision and hearing results in falls and isolation. By recognizing the changing needs in the United States, correctional institutions build structural changes to accommodate the aging prisoner better. Correctional facilities are successfully developing and training their staff to be better equipped to meet this population’s needs. Many measures of adaptation can be easily realized with little additional cost. As Wolfe (2018) notes, the colonies provide older prisoners with access to a dining room and gym, social programs, adapted fitness and wellness, medical mattresses, and orthopedic shoes. Undoubtedly, such measures considerably facilitate the stay of older prisoners in a correctional institution, but they cannot rejuvenate a person. Improved access to health care and prison programs, a change in the prison environment, and post-release resolution can only increase the dignity of aging prisoners in their later life and at death.